Years ago detasseling corn was a common summer job for teenagers in our county especially since DeKalb was home to DEKALB seed corn and there were several fields of seed corn grown locally.
Then, most of the corn tassels were removed by hand. Today, machines remove most of the tassel, the pollen-producing flowers from the top of the corn plant. Laborers walk the fields to remove tassels which machines miss.
Why detassel corn?
Detasseling is a form of pollination control. The purpose of detasseling is to cross-breed or hybridize two different varieties of field corn.
Farmers get their seed from companies that cross pollinate corn to create hybrids with beneficial traits like drought tolerant and disease resistant.
How is detasseling done?
Every corn plant is both male and female. The male part of the corn is the tassel, and the female is silk. The tassel will self-pollinate the silk during growth.
Seed companies detassel corn plants in one location to ensure that another corn plant pollinates that ear.
Corn grown for seed is typically detasseled in rows of four, with one row left with tassels to pollinate the four female rows. Only the female corn grown is harvested for seed.
Detasseling typically occurs in July in seed corn fields in this area.
Detasseling machines remove about 85 – 90% of the tassels in a field. Manual labor is then needed to finish the field.
Tassels are removed by people grasping the base of the tassel, breaking it, then pulling it from the top of the corn plant.
Photos courtesy of Bayer Crop Science