Bob Nielsen and Jim Camberato, both Purdue University Extension specialists, visited Ken Simpson's farm near Morristown last week. He is a cooperator who works with them putting out on-farm trials each year. They walked the plots with Simpson and other local farmers.
Nielsen pulled ears out of plots that received different nitrogen rates at random. Most ears were full and plump. Then he found and ear which, while not misshapen, did not have as many rows of kernels and had some kernels missing. If you were playing a kid's game of which thing doesn't belong with the others, it would have been the first one selected as not matching everything else.
"What caused it?" Simpson asked them. "Why was one random ear like that?"
The first assumption is that it is just one random ear and that there are not a bunch of ears like it in the field. Since it was one of perhaps 20 picked at random, it's a fairly good assumption that the shape of the ear isn't a widespread condition in the field.
"Different things could be going on," Nielsen explains. Someone in the crowd quipped that maybe it was from a different hybrid. Actually, Nielsen answered that might not be so far form the truth.
"It could be what we call an outlier – something that is extremely different from everything else," he notes. "It could be a plant from a different hybrid that was mixed in from the rest."
However, that's not the only possible cause, Nielsen says. It may also be from something that happened uniquely when that plant pollinated. Environmental conditions during pollination were generally favorable, but something may have gone wrong with that one particular plant that produced an ear unlike the others from the same genetics of plants nearby.
"It's hard to say for sure at this point," Nielsen says.