You would think that one of the easiest facts to find on search engines would be records for the longest ear of corn in the world. But apparently not enough people care about such statistics anymore. Diligent search on Google and Yahoo produced a lot of facts and falsehoods about corn but not any specific measurements as to the longest ear. The first thing that comes up under that heading turns out to be about a fake ear, and other references mysteriously omit measurements. One website professes to sell seed from a white sweet corn it calls “Two Foot Long Corn” but there is no data included on just how long the ears really grow. Since it is simplicity itself to lay a yardstick alongside an ear of corn and take a picture of it to show its length, as I do above, why didn’t they do it? There are local corn varieties in Mexico “over a foot long” and some strains of skinny flint corn produce foot long ears even in the U.S. But dent corn, the kind commonly grown, rarely gets beyond a foot in length, and today’s hybrid yellow dent corns generally run no more than 8 inches in length.
In the absence of any info to the contrary so far, I am going to draw myself up in grandiose hauteur and declare that I grew the longest ear of dent corn in the world this year. It is Reid’s Yellow Dent open-pollinated corn and if it is not the longest ear, I bet it is the biggest. Other years, I have grown ears nearly as long as this 15 incher, but this is the first time there were 20 rows of kernels on such ears instead of 16 or 18 rows. Actually length is not the best indicator of how much corn there is on a cob. I have had ears with 24 rows of kernels and a length of 11 inches that actually contained more corn by weight that the longer ears with 18 rows of kernels.
Bragging about the size of corn ears is rather pointless because, as all corn growers know, bigger yields are obtained with denser plantings— 25,000 to 30,000 plants per acre with an average but consistent ear size of only 7 inches in length. To get big ears from my open-pollinated corn, I like to have the plants at least a foot apart in rows about 36 inches apart, but even then most of the ears vary from nubbins to ten inches long and yield about 110 bushels per acre, not the 200 bushels that hybrid corns today can make on good soil with good weather conditions.
But it is great fun trying to grow big ears of corn. First of all, if one is harvesting by hand as I do, the bigger the ears, the more efficient husking can be. You can shuck out a foot long ear faster than two six inch ears. (My crazy dream is that someday much of the corn used for human food— flour, meal, bread, pastries, tortillas, parched corn, popcorn, fritters, breakfast cereals etc. — will be grown in small plots for home consumption.) The ancient Mayans started out with corn ears that were hardly two inches long and over the course of centuries, native Americans developed the kind of corn we have today simply by selecting the biggest ears each year for replanting. Who’s to say how big ears of corn can get without screwing up the genetic code like Monsanto and Syngenta are doing? When I started 35 years ago, my biggest ears rarely exceeded a foot in length. Now foot long ears are fairly common and a 14 incher not so unusual. Of course the ears all shrink a little as they dry, so the 16 inchers will end up somewhere between 13 and 14 inches long. But that is still awesome.
What if a variety of dent corn could be developed that consistently produced very large ears on every stalk? My biggest ears easily contain a pound of kernels each. Even at a plant population of 25,000, lower than commercial plant populations used today, that would mean a record-breaking yield of over 400 bushels per acre. Because it is open-pollinated corn, the farmer could save his own seed, thereby saving a bunch more money. Think of the conniption fits commercial seed corn growers would throw, if farmers started planting with their own seed.
My corn this year made a bumper crop on the same land that last year produced poorly. The only difference was ample rain this year and hardly any last year. I often wonder how often someone’s hotshot fertilizer or seed variety, or pesticide gets the credit for what rain does.
The other lesson was about weeds. My grandson and I did a fairly good job of keeping the corn (about half an acre) free of weeds until it was a foot tall. Then the rains came steadily and so did the weedy grasses. The corn looked like it was growing in a hay field. But it stayed above the weeds, and if anything the weeds helped the cause by insuring that there was no erosion. Are we sure that a “weed-free” corn field is the best way to go? I wonder. After harvest, I can pasture the stalks and the grasses into winter.