Farm Progress

New seed corn crop takes shape

Corn Illustrated: Seed dealers employ different methods to conquer the challenges of a wet spring and varying inbred traits.

Tom J. Bechman, Midwest Crops Editor

June 12, 2024

3 Min Read
A young cornfield
2 MALE ROWS: This hybrid requires an alternating pattern of two male inbred rows and four female inbred rows. The pair of male rows are slightly darker green. It’s easiest to see at the crest of the hill. Photos by Tom J. Bechman

Plant breeders aren’t the only people who produce the seed corn you plant each spring. Once a hybrid is ready for release, agronomists plan where seed will be planted and in what planting scenario. Then they hope for spring weather that will allow them to plant on time.

“We’re planting two inbreds in each field to make the cross as the breeder prescribes,” says Darin Lucas, production location agronomist for Beck’s at Atlanta, Ind. “The goal is tweaking male and female inbreds, so each one pollinates at the correct time. Throw in uncertain weather, and it can be challenging.”

At the end of May, planting was still ongoing. Rain interfered with seed corn planting across the Corn Belt, Lucas says. “We’re confident that we will catch up and be OK,” he adds.

Overcoming challenges

If you’ve grown seed corn before, you know there are a range of techniques used to match up pollinating dates between inbreds, depending on the inbreds. If you haven’t raised seed corn, Lucas provides this quick refresher about different techniques:

Growth regulator. The easiest scenario occurs when you can use a growth regulator to delay germination of male rows. Beck’s uses BioNik from Valent for this purpose when possible. “Then you can plant female and male rows at the same time, more like normal planting,” Lucas says. “However, not all male inbreds get along well with S-abscisic acid, the active ingredient in BioNik. There are several inbreds where we can’t use this product.”

Missing row units? If they can’t delay germination of the male, they plant female rows, then come back and plant male rows. When they only need one male row to pollinate adjoining female rows, it is a four-female-one-male row pattern, Lucas explains. “The planter we use for planting male rows only has a planter unit on every fifth row,” he says.

A man kneeling down next to rows of corn plants

More male power. For male inbreds that have smaller tassels or don’t produce as much pollen, the choice is alternating four female rows with two male rows. The double dose of male rows provides enough pollen to fertilize all female rows, Lucas says.

Double delay. With certain male inbreds, the pattern is four female, one male row, but the male row is planted at two different times — into the same rows. “We base when to plant male rows each time on how many heat units accumulate after planting female rows,” Lucas says. “The interval will be longer in cooler weather. We plant a lower population each time to reach the desired final stand. This process helps with inbred pairs where we need to spread the pollination window.”

So, why grow inbreds that require more tweaking? “Those crosses are often some of our best hybrids,” Lucas notes. “Plant breeders determine that part of the equation. Our task is producing hybrid seed, even in years when the weather doesn’t cooperate.”

About the Author(s)

Tom J. Bechman

Midwest Crops Editor, Farm Progress

Tom J. Bechman became the Midwest Crops editor at Farm Progress in 2024 after serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer for 23 years. He joined Farm Progress in 1981 as a field editor, first writing stories to help farmers adjust to a difficult harvest after a tough weather year. His goal today is the same — writing stories that help farmers adjust to a changing environment in a profitable manner.

Bechman knows about Indiana agriculture because he grew up on a small dairy farm and worked with young farmers as a vocational agriculture teacher and FFA advisor before joining Farm Progress. He works closely with Purdue University specialists, Indiana Farm Bureau and commodity groups to cover cutting-edge issues affecting farmers. He specializes in writing crop stories with a focus on obtaining the highest and most economical yields possible.

Tom and his wife, Carla, have four children: Allison, Ashley, Daniel and Kayla, plus eight grandchildren. They raise produce for the food pantry and house 4-H animals for the grandkids on their small acreage near Franklin, Ind.

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