It’s August! By now, corn is taller than tall and you can’t see much as you drive past on the back roads of the Midwest, unless there’s a soybean field! All of the cornfields at this point are a beautiful luscious green towering in plenty of excess of 10 feet tall. However, you might see a few cornfields that aren’t as tall and look like their tops have been chopped off, this is because of a process that we call detasseling in the agriculture industry.
On your average cornfield, you’ll see a brownish-yellow piece coming out from the top of the field. That is called the tassel. The tassel is the male flower part of the corn. It produces pollen, which falls down towards the female flower, which produces the cob or corn. Before it is corn, it is simply a cob with silk that catches the pollen. When pollen hits the silk, one kernel is formed. Therefore, corncobs have one silk per kernel.
With field corn, the predominant corn type you see that soars way above your head, fields are planted and left to pollinate. However, things are different when it comes to fields for seed corn.
In seed cornfields, two kinds of corn are planted. Typically, there are two rows of male corn planted, with 4 or 6 rows of female corn planted between the male corn rows.To pollinate correctly, a machine comes through and detassels the female rows, before they start to drop pollen. Machines are not perfect, so after the machines go through, farmers and companies hire workers, typically students, to walk the rows and pick any tassels still on the corn.
Once they are detasseled, the only tassels left are the males, which will pollinate the surround female plants. Once the female rows are pollinated, the male rows are destroyed and the only plants left in the field are the detasseled female rows. This helps cross-pollinate the two different varieties that are in the field. If the tassels were left on the female rows, the male rows would not pollinate all of the female rows, as the female rows would also be laying pollen from their own tassels.
That is a short and somewhat confusing explanation of why and how fields are detasseled. While you may not see it every day, now you know why some cornfields don’t have the yellow tassels on top!