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Why Do They Detassel Corn?

Why do they detassel corn? Is the process beneficial?

Are you researching to find the real reason?… Intrigued but confused? Don’t fret.

Let me tell you all you need to know about your question- Why do they detassel corn? I have gathered some valuable information backed up with a detailed process of detasseling corn.

Agriculture and farming have gone through several developments over time. Farmers and other agricultural professionals have understood the importance of not leaving the crops to grow independently.

The natural growth process of crops is okay but not significant enough to produce the required quantity. It is vulnerable to diseases, weak in the face of droughts, and easily breakable. Over time researchers found that cross-breeding rather than the natural self-breeding process can help a crop stay stable under harsh conditions even.

Detasseling corn is one such practice. This practice is not new. However, modern tools are used now and have proven to be highly beneficial.

So let dive in and learn about the process of detasseling and the actual reason why do they detassel corn.

Why Do They Detassel Corn
Corn Stalk Tassels via Flickr

Why Do They Detassel Corn?

Detasseling is still very common among farmers, and people do it often. But before we get to the question- why do they detassel corn, you must first understand what a corn tassel is and what it does.

What Is A Corn Tassel?

Each corn plant has a male part and a female part, and they are involved in the reproduction of the crop. The corn tassel is located at the topmost position of the plant, and it sits there and produces pollen. You can equate it to the male part.

The female part is the ear of the corn with the silk covering. As the wind blows, the pollen grains produced by the tassel will be shaken loose, and some will fall on the silk covering of the corn.

The strands of silk are connected to seeds on the ear of the corn – one strand is attached to one seed.

The pollen falls on the silk, makes its way down to the ovule, fertilizes it, and develops into a seed ready to be sown. This process is called self-pollination because the tassel of corn fertilizes the silk of the same corn plant.

The crop produced from these seeds is perfectly safe and satisfactory. So, why do they detassel corn?

Detasseling The Corn – Why Do They Do It?

If self-pollination does all the work and produces healthy crops, why all the trouble of cross-pollinating? Why do they detassel corn?

Detasseling corn is a controlled form of pollination or cross-pollination. It allows farmers to grow hybrid corn plants and increases the yield of corn by a considerable measure.

This improved yield is because of “hybrid vigor” or heterosis described by George Shull. Heterosis is the concept where an offspring of parent plants manages to be better in characteristics than the parents.

When two different types of varieties of corn undergo cross-pollination, the offspring do not inherit the genes of just one plant. Hybrid genes are better and more robust than single parent genes, and they have consistently outperformed all kinds of living beings, including humans.

Detasseling is how farmers stop self-pollination from the same genes being passed on and promote cross-pollination, where the young plants inherit various characteristics.

Manual detasseling gained popularity in the 20th century when the male part of the corn crop was widely sterilized due to a fungus outbreak.

The sterilized male crop gene was passed on through self-fertilization, and the yield reduced dramatically as most of the corn crops couldn’t produce healthy pollen.

This fungal outbreak was the time when manual detasseling was adopted again. The hybrid offspring have fewer chances of inheriting similar destructive genes and a vast gene pool.

So, the bad genes will likely stop being passed on after some time. Hybrid corn plants have been shown to produce a better crop, be drought resistant, and survive against diseases.

How To Detassel Corn?

Corn plants can be detasseled by using two methods – through hands or via machines.

Yes, manual detasseling is still popular today. Even after the machines have been used to detassel a crop field, some farmers might still take a round of the land to detassel any remaining crops missed by the machines.

Big companies hire farmers to take consultation on when to sow, when to detassels, and finally when to harvest. Detasseling is done in the summer season, usually in the month of June.

For detasseling, make sure to put on proper clothes and equipment – thick gloves, a full-sleeved shirt, and long pants. Covering yourself with suitable clothing is a must as corn leaves are sharp and will cut you if your bare skin comes in contact. You should wear eyeglasses as well.

Identify the colored part standing straight up in the middle and grab it firmly. The tassel must be removed in one swift motion. You can turn over the full tassel in the air for pollination if you want.

In the case of machines, there are automatic ones. They have a puller that catches the tassel and a blade used to cut the tassel off. The device has sensors that detect that the tassels are present and proceed to pull them off.

Using machines is effective, especially for large-scale operations. About 80-90% of tassels are removed by machinery, but the rest needs to be handled manually.

What Happens After Detasseling?

After detasseling, the crops still need to be planted. In most fields, both types of corn, tasseled and detasseled corn, are soiled side by side. There are ‘female’ rows having plants without tassels, and there are ‘male’ rows that still have their tassels.

The distribution is in the ratio of three or four female rows to one male row.

When crops are planted, the male crops will pollinate, and the wind or insects will spread the pollen grains. The pollen falls on various corn crops, and the plant produces hybrid seeds.  

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Farmers need to be careful of when to detassel and when to replant the detasseled crops. If the process is done too early or too late, the yield might suffer.

Also, if you detassel too late, the self-pollination process will already have started, and there will be no use of detasseling.

Are you interested in the field of farming and agriculture? Comment below and share your tips related to detasseling of corn, and let me know if you enjoyed the article.