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Unique Growing Region for Seed Corn

Everyone who lives in Chatham-Kent knows we grow corn, but did you know there are various types of corn? The most common are flint corn (often known as Indian corn), dent corn, sweet corn, popcorn, and seed corn. Flint corn has a hard outer shell and kernels with a range of colours from white to red and is used mostly in decorations.

Dent corn is commonly referred to as field corn or commercial corn. This corn is often used as livestock feed and is the main kind of corn used when making industrial products such as ethanol, corn sugar, and corn syrup, as well as various foods. It can be either white or yellow.

Sweet corn is often eaten on the cob or can be canned or frozen. Sweet corn is seldom processed into feed or flour. Sweet corn gets its name because it contains more sugar than other types of corn.
Popcorn, a type of flint corn, has a soft starchy center covered by a very hard shell. When popcorn is heated, the natural moisture inside the kernel turns to steam that builds up enough pressure for the kernel to explode. When the kernel explodes, it forms the white starchy mass that we like to eat.

There is another type of corn grown in Canada, but only in Southwest Ontario and primarily Chatham-Kent. This is seed corn, which are the kernels of corn saved from one year’s harvest for the next year’s planting.

Chatham-Kent farmers grow over 70 different types of crops and our farmers are world-class producers of various types of seed crops, including seed corn. Our growing region has an exceptional combination of climate, soils, production expertise and infrastructure. We have a long growing season, which means many frost-free days, as well as consistent heat accumulation and rainfall.

Corn plants will pollinate themselves if left on their own, which is called self-pollination. This is accomplished through the tassel, which contains the male flower spreading pollen. This pollen is ‘caught’ by the female flowers, which are the silk part of the corn plant, which eventually produce the corn kernels.

Seed corn producers, however, want to prevent self-pollination. What they want instead is to ensure cross-pollination between the two varieties of seed corn selected for their field. Hybrid seed corn is produced by crossing two different inbreds of corn, called hybridization. The two inbreds used in this process are referred to as male (the plant responsible for producing pollen) and the female (the plant that produces the hybrid seed). To ensure the purity of the cross or hybrid, the tassels are entirely removed from the female rows, which ensures all the pollen for producing the seed crop comes from the male rows.

Most of the detasseling is done in two steps. The field is first detasseled by a machine and then manually. A detasseling machine called a “cutter” goes through the rows of corn to be detasseled and cuts off the top portion of the plant. This is done to make the field more uniform so that a“puller” machine can come through the corn field one or two days later and pull the tassel out of the plant by catching it between two rollers moving at a high speed. This removes the majority of the tassels.

Detasseling machines typically remove 60-85% of the tassels in a seed corn field. However, detasselers also need to walk through the field in order to ensure the field is 99.5% clear of female tassels. This walking up and down the corn rows, or passes, may have to be done a number of times until the field passes inspection.

This inspection is generally carried out by older students with detasseling experience and then followed up by company accredited field staff or an official from CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) for final closing of the field. If detasseling is done too early, it can damage the plant. If detasseling is done too late, there is a risk of self-pollination.

Every summer in Chatham-Kent, hundreds of students are employed as detasselers, starting when they are about 13-14 years old. It’s a very tough job, as they have to work in all types of weather conditions. They end up with blisters, cuts, sunburn, and insect bites, but it teaches them the value of hard work and the experience looks great on a job resume. All four of our children went through this summer ordeal. At that time, they did not really thank me, but hopefully they now realize the importance of this job training experience.

Chatham-Kent is also home to the office of the Seed Corn Growers of Ontario, whose principal mandate is to work with the individual seed corn companies to negotiate production contracts that not only make their growers competitive, but also provide incentives to produce excellent seed. They work to ensure their growers are provided with the best information and programs to maintain and broaden their seed corn production skills.

Chatham-Kent is home to four of the five seed corn companies in Ontario. They are C&L Seed Production, Maizex Seeds, Pioneer Hi- Bred Production LP (DuPont), and Pride Seeds.

Seed corn is a high value crop for our farmers. The past five year average of Ontario seed corn sales were$23 million, which generated $44 million in economic impact at the farm gate level. There are also additional economic impact from seed corn processing, trucking and distribution.

On top of all this, did you know that Chatham-Kent is the number one producer of seed corn in all of Canada? There are so many opportunities ahead in our agriculture sector, and this is another example of how Chatham-Kent really does “grow for the world!”

Kim Cooper
Municipality of Chatham-Kent, Economic
Development Services, Agricultural Specialists.
phone: 519.351.7700 x 2030