Cob provides earful of information on life growing up

Environmental conditions Kernels in straight lines mean it’s been a good year, while crooked lines indicate the plant was under stress

TABER, Alta. — Whether chopped up for silage, combined for grain or savoured at the dinner table, every corn cob tells the story of a season past.

The number of rows, kernel pattern and extension speak to the ease or challenges the host corn plant experienced from planting to harvest.

“When you see your rows of corn clearly pronounced in straight lines, it’s been a good year for corn,” said Lloyd Van Eeden Petersman, a representative of both DuPont Pioneer and the Taber Home and Farm Centre.

“When you see a twist in them, when you see (the rows) going from 16 down to 14 down to 12, at those constricted points something happened way back in the V3, V4, V5 stage, be it a hailstorm, be it a water shortage, things like that.”

V stages are growth stages of the corn plant, roughly equivalent to the number of leaves. The VT stage is the tassel stage, after which the stages are described with an R as the plant enters its reproductive phase.

Growers can count the number of rings, number of rows and number of kernels per row to estimate their anticipated grain corn yield. However, that number matters less than biomass or size and taste for silage and table corn.

Empty spots on the cob, where kernels should be, are also evidence of stressors.

Speaking at a July 23 corn school in research plots near Taber, Van Eeden Petersman recalled the crop of 2010, when many cobs showed gaps and irregularities.

That was the year forest fires spread smoke into southern Alberta, reducing direct sunlight on the corn crop. Kernel abortion resulted.

The southern Alberta crop is thriving this year, with high heat units and near optimum weather. Some corn for the fresh market is expected to be ready in early August.

Van Eeden Petersman said grain corn is on pace to be ready well before the first anticipated frost date of Sept. 20.

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