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World Record Cornstalk?

With the use of plastic and heat to extend the growing season, Jason Karl says he broke the world record last year with a 34-ft. tall cornstalk. While it’s exciting to break a record, he has another motivation.
  As a private breeder and researcher, Karl believes that growing and studying tall corn offers applicable lessons to commercially grown corn.
  “The whole idea right now is to learn why corn does what it does, and what it tells us about the fundamentals of corn,” he says. Experiments with it can show the effect of longer light with artificial lights, for example.
  “We used seed from southern Mexico. Bring it here and it grows really tall because of the longer days in summer. It goes bananas,” he explains. Through seed breeding over the past 15 years, the corn grows tall because of genetics and not because of special fertilizer or secret feeding formulas.
  “Any maize in the U.S. that has ever grown over 20 ft. tall did so solely because it was taken directly from the tropics – that’s the science and reality,” Karl explains. “Under any circumstance ever, fertilizer itself is not going to be responsible for any epic height. If there is epic height, it’s because genes are present in the maize that make the maize highly reactive to night-length (and night-length synergy with temperature and cat-ion exchange capacity). I am breeding to get it taller.”
  He extends New York state’s relatively short season with plastic towers and heaters to protect the plant.
  “It might make ears, but it puts most of its energy (sugar) into the stalk,” he says. That’s desirable for silage – or possibly as an alternative fuel.
  While Karl keeps detailed notes of his work and has written a book on the science of tall maize that includes the history of tall corn, he notes there are limits and hurdles regarding tall corn.
  It doesn’t do well in large plots, he notes, Equipment is also an issue. For example, how do you handle tall stalks that are 3 in. in diameter and that tend to lodge.
  Regardless of the impracticality of commercial tall corn, Karl continues to be fascinated by it and interested in talking to other professionals taking a scientific approach.
  Through his research, he read about 30-ft. corn in the West Indies in 1899 and Don Radda’s record-breaking, 31-ft. cornstalk in 1946 in Iowa (featured in Vol. 33, No. 5 of FARM SHOW).
  Using a scientific approach, he wants to learn more about corn. “I’m pretty darn sure this is the tallest in history,” he says. Though he has no interest in setting a Guinness world record, he has signatures of four leading scientists who saw and confirmed the height of the tall stalk.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Jason Karl (ph 585 307-6936; jrk36@cornell.edu).

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2011 - Volume #35, Issue #6