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Rainy spring season impacts detasseling for area farmers

NOW: Rainy spring season impacts detasseling for area farmers

PLYMOUTH, Ind. -- Agriculture experts and farmers say a popular summer job for Indiana teens will have less opportunity this year. 

Each summer thousands of Hoosier teens as young as 13 head to corn fields across the state and pull the tassels from the tops of seed corn plants. 

The process, known as detasseling, usually starts in early July and lasts a month. 

However, this year’s wet spring delayed corn planting and is now postponing other aspects of the corn production process like detasseling. 

“Our peak is going to fall more into August 1,” said Rod Schroeder. “Whereas typically by middle of July, we’d be in our peak.” 

Schroeder is a field operations manager with Corteva Agriscience. 

He explains detasseling is a vital process that ensures farmers produce the best corn seeds possible for the next growing season. 

“In the later growing stages it’ll throw up, push up its tassel, which is actually the flower of corn, the pollen source,” said Schroeder. “Detasseling is actually the process of plucking or removing that flower from the female rows so that it is incapable of self-pollinating.” 

Schroeder explains seed corn fields are planted with two breeds of corn. Removing the tassels from one breed means it cannot self-pollinate which ensures a high-quality, hybrid seed. 

“Somewhere midway up the stalk is where the ear will come out,” said Schroeder. “The silk that comes out the end of the ear is actually the receptor. [It] receives the pollen and then pollinates and creates the corn kernel. We’re trying to remove the tassels so the pollen doesn’t fall on those silks and that they only pollen that’s coming from the fields is coming from the male row.” 

According to Schroeder, the two week delay is leaving his team with concerns that they won’t have enough workers to detassel their crops. He says school and other activities like sports and band camps also start in August which would likely force many workers to choose between the two. 

“It’s been a little bit of a harder fit the last 10 years or so anyway,” said Schroeder. “Compound this year with our late season and pushing the bulk of our work into what is normally the first week of school for a lot of kids, it is a tougher fit this year.” 

While machines detassel up to 85 percent of Corteva’s crop, Schroeder says teenagers help the company reach 100 percent. 

“When the female row reaches reproductive stage and starts putting up that tassel we have to go get that tassel then,” said Schroeder. “We can’t really dictate when we’re going to schedule that work. We gotta do it when the time is right.” 

He adds the delay is forcing companies to find workers elsewhere. Schroeder says Corteva works with professional AG firms so the lack of detasselers doesn’t further delay production. 

“If you’re in agriculture, I think on some level you’re paid to be nervous.,” said Schroeder. “Every year is different. You’re always looking out for what’s the next challenge... so yeah there’s some nervousness about, ‘Will we be able to accomplish this?’ but we game plan this quite a bit and like I said, through technological advances and diversification of our work labor, there will be some trying moments but we’ve got confidence.”

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