Planting two acres of corn with 1940’s planter and a BCS may look like an Ewok’s fart against the Death Star, but it’s my tiny strike back against the seed empire.
I only plant open-pollinated (OP) corn. OP corn predates the hybrids that were first developed in the 1920’s. Hybrids are crossed several times to achieve certain traits of the parent plants. The first hybrid corn varieties gave much better yields, giving farmers more corn out of the same acreage. The uniform stands were also easier to harvest mechanically. Hybrids’ yield and uniformity soon made OP corn an anachronism.
Hybrid plants won’t produce seed true to the plant. Try replanting hybrid seed and you get a throwback to one of the many parents. Hybrid corn made farmers seed consumers instead of savers or producers. Today, farmers pay several hundred dollars for a fifty pound bag of seed that contains the intellectual property of some global corporation. Many small farmers are going back to OP corn as a way of opting out of the seed company racket.
OP corn varieties produce seed true to the plant—the seed you harvest is identical to the one you planted. With OP corn, farmers can select and save seed from the best ears and stalks for the following year. Over time, individual farmers can develop strains of OP corn varieties that are adapted to their specific climate and farm. This is what every farmer who grew corn used to do. There are other reasons to grow OP corn.
OP corn varieties have higher nutritional value than hybrids. When I’ve dumped equal piles of organic yellow corn and OP corn to hogs, they prefer the OP corn. OP corn gives me the feed quality I want for my hogs and give me the freedom to replant my own selected seed very year. In my limited personal experience, OP corn also tastes better when ground for cornmeal.
The challenge to keeping corn pure (GMO-free) is that corn pollen can travel for miles. To prevent GMO contamination, organic (or GMO-free) farmers must plant much later than their neighbors so that the genetically modified corn has finished shedding pollen by the time the organic corn tassels.* Taking these precautions puts the organic farmer at a disadvantage. I’m planting two weeks after I would have liked to. That will change.
I just planted a quarter-acre of OP corn that has the PuraMaize gene. PuraMaize is the industry name for a pollen-blocking trait from popcorn called gametophyte factor. Next year, I should have enough seed that I can plant my OP corn when the conditions are best and I don’t have to worry about cross-contamination.
The name of the OP corn variety with PuraMaize?
*Not everyone takes these precautions. The owner of a popular pastured-pork brand once told me, “We plant non-GMO [seed]. I can’t guarantee that the feed is non-GMO. You know how it is."
Former Marine Infantry Officer. Iraq Vet. Interested in Regenerative Agriculture at any scale.
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The Odyssey Farm Journal
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Dane County 2022 Climate Champion
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