2016 - Volume #40, Issue #6, Page #19[ Sample Stories From This Issue | List of All Stories In This Issue | Print this story | Read this issue]
45-Ft. Corn Stalk Set To Challenge World Record
“I set up a 55-ft. tall plastic greenhouse that’s only several feet wide,” says Karl. “It’s designed specifically for this project.”
The greenhouse protects the plants from cool nighttime temperatures, but also provides a support structure. It also elongates stalk segments and reduces wind damage. Karl notes that without it, water-saturated stalks would snap. Other 30 to 40-ft. plants simply bend over in an arc to the ground. He has found those can require very little support.
“I’ve held a 32-ft. plant up in the air with just my hands,” says Karl. “A support structure is the practical limit to the height of a corn plant.”
His tallest plant so far is the result of 7 generations of breeding a tropical strain called Chiapas 234 after crossing it with a naturally occurring mutation that adds internodes. Normally Chiapas 234 has 18 internodes below the ear and 6 above. The more internodes and elongation between them, the more leaves and the taller the plant.
“I select for the tallest strain, not the tallest plant,” says Karl. “Then I cross my tallest strain to the mutant to get the 45-ft. plant. There were 80 internodes on the 40-ft. plus plants.”
Karl has other mutations he’s working with as well as non-hybrid lines that have surprising height on their own. One 42-ft. tall plant has ears at the 40-ft. height and is still growing.
While it is hard to estimate “yield” from a tall plant, Karl notes that ear shoots appear along much of the length of the stalk. Seed matures at several nodes with multiple ears of full or small cobs appearing at some shanks. Cobs can be along shank nodes or all within the same husks. He expects ears from perhaps 14 nodes to be viable.
What he can measure more easily is leaves. Conventional breeders use the same identified mutation to add a few extra leaves above the ear in silage corn.
“Mine doesn’t have 3 or 4 extra leaves; it has 50,” says Karl.
Even with the added leaves and height, Karl’s corn needs no extra fertilizer. He did use lights to shorten the night length. This doubled the original internode quantity.
When asked if he plans to continue with the project, he responded that the current work would be a good stopping place. However, he adds, “I’m denfinitely continuing. The next steps are clear.”
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Jason Karl (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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