Seed Corn Production

Michigan is home to the SEED corn capitol of the world – Constantine, Michigan. People often think of Iowa, Illinois, or Indiana when they think of corn because of the vast acres of the crop.  However, a good SEED production environment is not always the same as that for crop production. Corn SEED production is all about pollination, when pollen falls from the tassel to the silk to fertilize and produce a kernel. HYBRID seed corn production is all about pollen management, or the right pollen being available at the right time. This can be a challenge when trying to match up two completely different inbreds.  It can also be a challenge when physically removing the tassels from thousands of plants per acre (detasseling). Much planning and investment is involved in seed corn production and it is important to minimize environmental risk and also maximize plant production.

Southwest Michigan has several advantages which are well suited for seed corn production: irrigation, lighter textured well drained soils, and a tempered buffer from frost by the great lakes. Irrigation is important to minimize plant stress if a hot dry spell might come.  The corn plant has a way of dealing with stress – retard or delay silk growth. If a drought were to occur during pollination, silking might be delayed changing the predicted timing for when pollen might be available. Southern Michigan and northern Indiana is home to 680 thousand acres of irrigated ground. An opposite weather condition could also occur – excessive rain. Tassels need to be removed from seed corn plants prior to silk emergence regardless of the weather.  A large portion of the tassels are removed by equipment with the remaining by physically walking through the field.  Light textured, well drained soils are very helpful to ease traffic in fields when rains come. Finally, frost can be a big threat to seed quality. The standards for seed corn quality are set very high and the higher starch content in corn is more vulnerable to frost injury.  Germination and vigor can be reduced. The geographical location near Lake Michigan is buffered from first killing frosts in the Fall.

Michigan has been important in seed corn from 1887 when W. J. Beal made the first cross-fertilize corn for the purpose of increasing yields through hybrid vigor. Today much has changed with advanced technology and traits contributing to the gains in yields achieved. Who would ever think that one could harvest 476.9 bushels of corn per acre in Michigan as Don Stall topped the National Corn Growers Association yield contest this year.