The first spikes of corn to emerge in springtime settle a farmer’s initial apprehension.
Farmers plant corn with a lot of optimism and faith, says Len Corzine, a corn farmer from Assumption, Illinois. After all, they sow around 35,000 seeds per acre and in five months hope for a return of 14.5 million kernels, about 200 bushels per acre.
Field corn covers about 72 million acres across the country. (But don’t confuse field corn with sweet corn!) While a corn farmer’s greatest visibility arrives with spring planting and fall harvest, the business of growing corn fills the calendar, with tasks ranging from seed selection and soil preparation to marketing, technology updates and a constant awareness of the weather forecast.
Spring carries the highest anxiety for farmers eager to plant another crop after a winter of repairing machinery and handling bookwork, bills and supply orders. Soil preparation resumes in this season, and corn planting begins in April, weather permitting.
Farmers spend summers scouting field conditions and protecting the health of the crop with timely agrichemical applications to treat or protect the plants from insect, weed and disease infestations. In July, farmers prefer mild temperatures and adequate rainfall to reduce stress as the corn plant pollinates and creates kernels.
“Watching that grain develop is fascinating to me because of all the things we are able to do with that corn plant,” Corzine says, noting corn’s extensive use in livestock feed, food processing and ethanol.
By fall, the plant matures, kernels dry and harvest equipment gathers the crop. Soil sampling, fertilizer applications and tillage decisions follow the large harvesting machine known as a combine, as does another round of bookwork to close the year and begin another.