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!