Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Corn - Lore of Yore and More

Corn Harvest
As the 2012 corn harvest arrives in NW Kansas - about 2 weeks ahead of schedule - I have a little test for our corn producing readers.  My source for this material is Winston's Cumulative Loose-Leaf Encyclopedia - a set of 10 volumes in my old, eclectic, home library.  Let's see how many of you can come up with the answers to the following questions.

1)  The corn harvesting picture to the right comes from the encyclopedia as a current photo.  What year does it represent?  You win if you're within 5 years either way.  NO peeking at the answers below!!

2)  According to this source, the types of corn being produced in the US are:  sweet; dent; pod; flint; pop; and soft.  Which of these 6 types is the most common corn produced in the US at the time the encyclopedia was sold, and which is the least common?

3)  Reed's Yellow, Funk's Yellow, Leaming, Reilley's Favorite, Clarage, Hogue's Yellow, and Silver Mine are the most popular varieties of corn grown in the corn belt of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and Eastern Kansas.  What part of the corn belt preferred Silver Pride, Murdock, Wimple's Yellow, Pickett's Yellow and Golden Eagle?

4)  What is the distinguishing trait of the following corn varieties common in the Southern states which were known as:  Lewis' Prolific; Hickory King; Neal's Paymaster; Cocke's; Albermarle; Whatley's; Mosby's; Hastings; Marlborough; and Batt's?  

OK, you may not know the answers to these questions, but do you come away with the idea that there were a lot of corn varieties back then?  The article claims an estimated 175 varieties available.  The story goes on to say that anywhere from 4 to 7 years is the normal fallow period between corn crops if good yields are to be maintained.  Moreover, planting populations are from 10,000 to 12,000 plants per acre on 40 to 44 inch rows, and it takes a four-month growing season for an average crop.  It's obvious that this material is referencing a time before the current age of irrigation.  The year this article references, the US corn production was reported to be 2.866 billion bushels.  And finally, the advice on the proper time to plant your corn crop is "..when the leaves of the oak are the size of a squirrel's ear in your locality..".  That should be the dead give-away!  Got the year figured out yet?

The encyclopedia is the 1918 edition citing 1916 and 1917 corn stats.  Today, the NW Kansas producers typically plant a 28,000 - 32,000 plant population per acre on 30 inch rows of continuous corn.  Of course, these are irrigated corn stats.  In 2011, the Thomas County, Kansas projected corn yield alone was 22,900,000 bushels - 1/100th of the entire U.S. corn production in 1916.  We've come a long way since then.

Oh, the answers.  1)  1917 (if you answered 1912-1922 I'm giving this one to you!);  2)  Dent is by far the most common and Pod is the least common;  3) The northern corn belt area of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, the Dakotas and northern Illinois and Indiana;  4)  They were two-eared corn varieties.

If you got these questions right, you're either very well read, an ardent ag historian, or older than dirt with a very good memory!  Thanks for stopping by.

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