What is Corn Detasseling?
|What is a corn tassel?
The tassel is the top most part of a corn plant. The bottom left picture shows a corn plant with the tassel fully opened or out, and the middle picture is one with the tassel stilled rolled up in the top leaves of the corn plant. This middle picture is normally what the plant looks like when we actually detassel, or remove the tassel from the plant. This process is done by simply pulling it out with your hand, then throwing it on the grown. The bottom right picture is what the plant looks like after the tassel has been removed.
|What does the corn tassel actually do?
The corn tassel is the part of the plant where the pollen comes from, see bottom left picture. The pollen is what is used to actually pollinated the ear of corn which causes the ear of corn to grow. This is done when the pollen falls off the tassel and then blows through the wind and eventually comes in contact with the silk on top of the ear of corn, see bottom right picture. When the silk is all dry and brown then this pollination process is done and the ear of corn will continue to grow.
Why would anyone do that?
As you might know, farmers do not save part of their corn each fall to plant in the spring. In the first half of this century that's
what they did, but they found that by planting seeds that are a cross between two different types of corn they grew A LOT
more corn. This was referred to as cross pollination, where you have the pollen from one variety of corn fertilize or pollinate
the silk of another different variety of corn. This cross pollination resulted in a hybrid corn.
How does pulling the tops or tassels off do that?
Well, we don't pull all of the tops off. The top of the corn plant (the tassel, remember?) contains the pollen that allows corn
plants to reproduce. We pull the tassels from certain rows of corn, these are referred to as the female plants, and the pollen
produced by the other rows, referred to as male plants and ones that are not detasseled (which are a different type of corn)
cross pollinate with the rows that we have detasseled, the female rows. This produces the special seed corn that farmers
want to plant.
How does one tell the difference between the so called male and female plants?
This is rather easy, since most all the fields are planted in the same way. Most are planted with the pattern of one row of
male then four rows of female followed by another row of male then four female. The entire field is planted in this pattern.
Then we, as detasselers, would proceed to detassel all the female rows. The male plants, planted in the single rows
which we do not detassel, would then pollinate the female silk on the rows we detasseled.
What is the end result?
The seed from the detasseled (female) plants is then harvested for use as hybrid seed, used in the commercial production of
corn. In order to be sold as certified seed, 99.7% of the tassels must be removed from the female line, within a very narrow
time frame. The new hybrids are much more vigorous and higher yielding. Major improvements have also been made in such
traits as early maturity, disease resistance, and insect tolerance. Almost all corn grown in the US comes from hybrid seed.
There has been a 6-fold increase in corn yields in the past 60 years, and corn is the number one cash crop in the United States,
with a value of $12.1 billion. Even though the hybrids are better yielding, better resistant to disease, and more vigorous, they do
not pass this on to their offspring. Each generation must be bred anew.