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What happens if farmers do not grow the row of unfertilized plants?

Submitted by: Wilbur Helsel


Expert response from Shilpa Swarup, Ph.D.

Pipeline Scientific Affairs Lead, Bayer Crop Science

Wednesday, 25/07/2018 12:53

Thanks for the question. I believe you are asking about how corn hybrids are produced. For starters, corn plants have both female (silks and cobs) and male parts (tassels). This means that in a field of corn, any plant can fertilize any other plant (hybrid), including itself (inbred).  

Breeders create new hybrids by cross pollinating genetics of a specific male inbred (plants with uniform performance) with a specific female inbred. This is done by planting one row of the male inbreds next to rows of female inbreds. 

Plants in female rows are de-tasseled manually to prevent any accidental inbreeding. This allows wind to blow pollens from male rows to the silks of the female rows. Only the seed from the female rows are harvested to ensure that the hybrid seeds that are sold to farmers are from the right male/female cross. The plants from hybrid seeds are bigger and stronger than either of the inbred parents used to make the seed. This practice has been done since 1940 and is one of the reasons growers buy new hybrid seed every year.