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Corn Ears at 45 Degrees or More During Grain Fill - Good or Bad?Corn Ears at 45 Degrees or More During Grain Fill - Good or Bad?

Crop Watch 2014: Here's a point-counterpoint discussion with a corn breeder.

Tom Bechman 1

August 22, 2014

2 Min Read

During the summer I judged crops at some county fairs and looked at exhibits at other county fairs, besides walking several corn fields. I was generally critical if ear placement was too high on the stalk, or if the ears when corn was just finished tasseling were bending out away from the stalk at 45 degrees or more. From past experience it seems to me that those ears may have trouble holding onto the stalk all the way to harvest.

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Dave Nanda, long-time plant breeder and frequent contributor in Farm Progress Magazines and Web stories, strongly disagrees with me on the ear angle. He believes that ears that angle out away from the stalk are actually a good thing. In fact, if he was still making selections in a breeding program today, it's a desirable trait he would like to include in a modern hybrid.

Here's our discussion.

Me: Dave, I believe that if ears hand out that far at an angle this early in the season (late July), they are more subject to getting water down into the area near the stalk where ears attach and you could wind up with more ear or stalk rot.

Nanda: No, it's just the opposite. If ears are held too close to the stalk they won't shed water as well. They would be more subject to ear rots later in the season.

Me: You're the expert but I'm not sure I buy it. Suppose I do – those ears would still be subject to falling down and would be held weaker to the stalk. They could drop off before harvest.


Nanda: No, you're wrong again. The connection to the stalk is very important, and as long as it's strong enough, it will hold the ear. Ears which drop over usually dry down faster. I like to see that kind of ear angle.

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Me: I'm still not convinced. Maybe it's just personal preference. I can see some angle but I think it can be too extreme. Can we just agree to disagree?

Nanda: No, not this time, Tom. This isn't negotiable. Ears that stick out from the stalk with some degree of angle during the growing season are an advantage, not a detriment. You have a point on ear height. We don't need super tall plants or high ear placement. But on ear angle, I'm right!

Moral of the story: Never argue with someone who was breeding corn while you were watching the Lone Ranger and still in first grade!

About the Author(s)

Tom Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

Tom Bechman is an important cog in the Farm Progress machinery. In addition to serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer, Tom is nationally known for his coverage of Midwest agronomy, conservation, no-till farming, farm management, farm safety, high-tech farming and personal property tax relief. His byline appears monthly in many of the 18 state and regional farm magazines published by Farm Progress.

"I consider it my responsibility and opportunity as a farm magazine editor to supply useful information that will help today's farm families survive and thrive," the veteran editor says.

Tom graduated from Whiteland (Ind.) High School, earned his B.S. in animal science and agricultural education from Purdue University in 1975 and an M.S. in dairy nutrition two years later. He first joined the magazine as a field editor in 1981 after four years as a vocational agriculture teacher.

Tom enjoys interacting with farm families, university specialists and industry leaders, gathering and sifting through loads of information available in agriculture today. "Whenever I find a new idea or a new thought that could either improve someone's life or their income, I consider it a personal challenge to discover how to present it in the most useful form, " he says.

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