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Corn Watch: It’s not unusual to find an inbred plant here and there in a field of hybrid corn.

Tom J Bechman 1, Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer

July 24, 2018

2 Min Read
WHY IT’S SMALLER: Crop consultant Dave Nanda examines an inbred plant in the Corn Watch ’18 field. It’s shorter and looks less healthy than its neighbors.

Walking down the rows of any cornfield, you may find an occasional plant that is shorter than its neighbors. It’s likely spindly too. Maybe it will produce an ear, maybe not. Typically, most people write these plants off as late emergers. Small plants that don’t produce ears are weeds.

Dave Nanda says they’re actually worse than weeds. “You can take out weeds early in the season with herbicides,” says the independent crop consultant based in Indianapolis. “You can’t take small corn plants out of corn. They will compete like a weed all season long with their neighbors.”

One cause of spindly, shorter, nonproductive plants scattered throughout a row of corn is late emergence. Perhaps the seed wasn’t placed at the same depth as its neighbors, and it was forced to wait for moisture. It didn’t emerge at the same time. Even a two-day delay in plant emergence can result in a weed instead of a productive corn plant, Nanda says.

Nanda evaluates the Corn Watch ’18 field regularly. The Corn Watch ’18 project is sponsored by Seed Genetics-Direct, Washington Court House, Ohio.

Inbred plants
There are other reasons you may find a much shorter plant taking up space in a row among normal, productive plants. The small plant could be an inbred. In other words, it grew from a seed that represented the female parent lines used to make the hybrid.

“It’s not uncommon to find a few inbred plants in a field of hybrid corn,” Nanda says. He found an example walking the Corn Watch ’18 field recently. The plant was shorter with a spindly stalk, and it wasn’t as dark green in color.

Finding an inbred plant in a hybrid field now and then is a reality of hybrid corn seed production, says Nanda, a longtime corn breeder himself. “When two inbreds are grown in the field to make the hybrid, the female plants are detasseled so they aren’t fertilized with their own pollen,” he explains. “The pollen that fertilizes them to make the hybrid comes from the male row, which isn’t detasseled.

“It’s virtually impossible to remove every tassel on the female rows in the detasseling process. Once in a while, a female plant is fertilized with pollen grains from either its own tassel or the tassel of another female inbred plant. The seeds produced by that plant are mixed in with hybrid seed.

“When that seed is planted you get a few inbred plants. That’s one reason we saw a small plant which was far behind the other plants here and there in the field.”

The only time inbred plants become an issue is if there are too many of them, Nanda says. He notes different production techniques are used by different companies. In general, the more efficient and particular a company is in producing hybrid seed, the higher quality the product, Nanda concludes.

About the Author(s)

Tom J Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer

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