If tree rings are a record of the kind of years a tree has endured or flourished in during its lifetime, then an ear of corn is a record of what the plant saw. In the corn plant's case, it's primarily a record of what happened during the three- to four-week window of tasseling, pollination and early grain-fill.
Scouting in fields last week, Christy Kettler, a Purdue University agronomy student and summer intern for Beck's Hybrids, found ears even in fields that still appear normal despite this year's floods and excess rain, that didn't have perfect ears. Maybe they only had a couple kernels missing here and there, but not every possible spot was filled with a kernel.
Kettler demonstrated that to us by pulling back shucks on a couple ears, and noting where it appeared kernels were missing. In a few cases there were kernels missing, usually only a couple at a time, near the butt end of the ear. Pollination has long passed that part of the ear up for the most part.
Ben Grimme, a sales manager with Beck's Hybrids and one of Kettler's supervisors, says sometimes things happen during pollination and a few kernels get missed. A pollen grain simply didn't fertilize that silk that led to that single pollen grain. As a result, there will be a missing kernel or two if they are side by side, or whatever the case may be.
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If it's only one or two kernels on an ear, or one here and there, it's likely just some random glitch in the normal process. If there are more than a few, it may indicate something happened that day that interfered with pollination. Then the conditions changed, and the rest of the ear pollinated normally.
For the most part, a couple kernels missing here and there isn't a big deal, Kettler notes. It's just something a scout will run into while examining corn progress carefully.