Maize, also known as corn, is a cereal grain which was first domesticated by indigenous people in southern Mexico about 7,000 years ago. The evolution of corn is one that has gone through many different changes to become what it is today.
It all started from a wild grass named teosinte. Teosinte looked much different from what our modern day corn looks like. Teosinte would have had very few kernels, and they would have been much smaller and further apart.
Ancient farmers took the first steps in domesticating this crop when they first choose which kernels (caryopsis) to plant. Some plants may have grown larger than others, or some may have been easier to process. These ancient farmers saved kernels from plants with desirable characteristics and planted them for the next season’s harvest. This process became known as selective breeding or artificial selection. Ears of corn began to become larger, with more kernels per ear, and eventually took the form of our modern day ear of corn. Corn eventually spread out of mexico through different trade networks and made its way into present day United States around 3,200 years ago. DNA testing and extensive studies have suggested that selective breeding continued throughout this transition into the United States, leading to the wide variety of species today. According to the National Corn Handbook, “Almost 300 races of corn have been described from Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.
Although many appear synonymous, at least 150 distinct entities have been collected in these areas. It was from certain of these races that most of the corns of North America were ultimately derived.” Experts say there are six major types of corn today which include dent corn, sweet corn, popcorn, flint corn, pod corn, and flour corn. Field (dent), sweet, and popcorn are the most popular types of corn grown within the United States. In 2012, 87.4 million acres were used to grow corn for various purposes.At this point, many may be asking why is all of this information on corn so important? There are many different answers to this question, all equally as important to each other. One reason why corn is so important is because of its many different uses.
Two of the biggest uses for corn is ethanol production and livestock feed. Corn is such a diverse crop, and is so important to not only us as humans but also to animals. According to an article by the Scientific American, “today’s corn crop is mainly used for biofuels (roughly 40 percent of U.S. corn is used for ethanol) and as animal feed (roughly 36 percent of U.S.
corn, plus distillers grains left over from ethanol production, is fed to cattle, pigs and chickens). Much of the rest is exported.”Corn is also extremely important from an economic standpoint. The United States is the world’s largest producer and exporter of corn, contributing to more than $74.
7 billion dollars annually from exports alone. We also have to be careful when it comes to depending on one crop so heavily, because if the midwest were to suffer a drought prices would skyrocket.Not only does corn have a high economic value, but it doubles as having a high nutritional value as well. Aside from containing different amounts of water, corn is mainly composed of carbohydrates, and has small amounts of protein and fat. Eating corn can help to lower blood pressure, its rich in antioxidants, and it contains carotenoids that are especially good for your eyes. When it comes to growing corn, there are so many different aspects to you have to look into. It all begins with a kernel planted in the early spring, but before we go into the specifics we need to talk about some beneficial pre-plant practices. Depending on the type of seed bed being planted, there are different steps to take.
If it’s a no-till operation, it may be useful to apply a “burndown” herbicide to eliminate the potential for high weed pressure. A burndown herbicide can be applied in either the fall or early spring. Some common tank mixtures for burndown herbicides include Roundup® brand herbicides mixed with 2,4-D or Dicamba. Another option would be to plant a cover crop such as winter rye in the fall, which also helps to keep weed pressure to a minimum.
Another method corn growers can use to eliminate weed pressure would be conventional tillage, but this may not be the best option for every grower. Besides herbicides and different tillage practices, there are other small cultural weed control methods you can take as well. Some examples of cultural weed management methods would include different row-spacing, crop rotation patterns, specific variety selections, etc. After taking preventative steps concerning weed pressure, it’s now time to look at nutrient management and soil fertility. Every grower has their own methods when it comes to a nutrient management plan, because our soil types and landscapes differ from one another. For example, a soil that is classified as loamy sand will need to be managed differently than a soil that is classified as a clay loam.
Sandy soils tend to dry out faster, and they have low water and nutrient retention. Soils with a higher percentage of clay tend to have a higher water holding capacity and hold onto essential nutrients better than sands. A corn plant cannot complete its life cycle without the essential nutrients being readily available for its own use, which is why cation exchange capacity is so important to know when creating a plan for nutrient management. Another aspect to look at is soil pH. Corn plants grow the best with a pH of of 6.0. If your soil is too acidic for corn growth meaning its pH is lower than 6.0, you can apply an agricultural lime composed of a compound that combines with hydrogen ions in the soil solution.
This will bring your soil’s pH up also known as raising the alkalinity. Some other things to do when it comes to nutrient management is have soil tests done every 5 years at a minimum, or take plant tissue samples for analyzing. You can also scout for deficiencies throughout the growing season, but at that point it may be to late to correct them.
This is why soil tests are the route to take, so you can catch the deficiency before it’s too late.Once you have a plan for both weed pressure and nutrient management, you can now begin to think about hybrids and which varieties will work best for your specific situation. Some really important things to take into consideration when choosing a hybrid for you is length until maturity, disease and insect resistance, kernel and ear qualities, and yield potential. According to the UW-Extension, “when selecting hybrids, many Wisconsin farmers rely primarily on previous years’ field performance, personal relationships with dealers, company and dealer notoriety, seed size / shape, and price.” These are all factors that will have an effect on your bottom line and potential for profit.
Now that we know how to pick the best hybrid for a particular situation, it’s time to make last minute adjustments on the planter to insure proper planting depths and pick a desirable population. Ideal planting depths are between 2 – 2 ½ inches. Corn that is planted shallower than 2 inches will take longer to germinate, and not be able to establish an adequate root system. Corn populations can run anywhere between 15,000 and 40,000 plants per acre, with the average sticking around 32,000. It will also make a difference if you decide to plant in 15 inch or 30 inch rows. You have to be exceptionally careful when choosing a population, because seeding too high or too low in a particular area will negatively affect yields. According to Wyffels Hybrids Agronomic Decision Making, “Since 1982, seeding rates have increased by an average of 300 plants per acre per year, and the trendline for yield increase over that time is 2.
2 bu/A per year.” These are some impressive numbers, and its important that we continue to grow these numbers as the world population continues to grow. After planting corn, environmental factors play the biggest role in the growing process from here on out. All that’s left for the grower to do is apply nitrogen when applicable and hope for rain.
Timing is crucial when it comes to mid-season nitrogen management, and if done at the correct times yields extremely positive results. We have to be careful when it comes to these applications though, because it is extremely easy to lose nitrogen through leeching which is a major environmental concern. Corn takes up half its nitrogen supply between V8 and VT during a period of around 30 days. It is immensely important to provide the plant with an adequate amount of nitrogen during this time. Dupont Pioneer says, “applying nitrogen at multiple times, including the time of maximum crop uptake, can spread the risk of nitrogen loss and crop deficiency, improve profitability by reducing nitrogen rates, and benefit the environment.” I can’t stress enough the importance of knowing what corn needs to grow productively, and how to get these supplies to the plant when they need it at that exact time.
At the end of the day, corn growers are looking to increase yields which therefore increases their profitability. They want to be able to do this while cutting fertilizer costs and being environmentally friendly at the same time. Knowing the corn plant and its many components is the key to their success.
I’ve talked about some of the basic components of corn, but there are so many other factors to take into account. I am excited to see where the industry goes from here on out, and I hope we can continue to improve upon the many different ways we grow corn.