One message Dave Nanda conveys over and over again is that corn plants have one goal in life – producing progeny. He calls them their babies. They will do whatever it takes to produce as many babies with a chance of being viable as possible, he says.
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Look at the picture. It's an extreme example. But look at the size of the ears on those plants. That isn't trick photography – the plants are about two feet tall. They were growing at the edge of a field where fine gravel had been worked into the soil in the distant past to form an entrance to the field. They not only emerged after planting, they produced ears!
Nanda is a plant breeder and consultant for Seed Consultants, Inc. He knows that you don't want to plant the seed from a hybrid plant as seed for the next year.
The genetics begin to segregate out again toward the original parents. Some plants would be very productive and some would be runts, with everything in between. It's similar to what can happen in line breeding of livestock when close relatives are mated, or in people when cousins that are too close in relation marry each other.
You may get a tremendous animal or a genius, and you may get a scrub animal or a person with a major defect. Often you get both.
Nanda knows the kernels won't be seed and you know it, but the plant doesn't know it, Nanda says. It makes decisions all through the season to maximize the number of viable kernels it produces – not so you get more yield, but so that there will be more potential seeds to carry on the plant's type.
The fact that you get more yield when plants are in a favorable environment and make decisions that result in more kernels per ear and more ears is an unintended consequence as far as the plant is concerned.
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At some point these short plants pictured here sensed they had what it takes to put on ears and save lots of kernels. Likely the water supply being excessive helped send signals early to make the ear big this year, Nanda notes.