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Corn Plant Biology

By Gary Zimmer & Dr. Harold Willis

Corn, commonly called “maize” in much of the world, is America’s most valuable agricultural crop, with the United States producing nearly half of the world’s corn. Corn is a member of the large plant family, the grasses, to which other important crops such as wheat, oats, barley and rice also belong.

A corn plant is a marvel of energy production and storage, capturing the sun’s energy during photosynthesis and converting it into food molecules. In only three or four months, a single kernel of corn grows into a plant 7- to 12-feet tall and produces 600 to 1,000 kernals similar to the one that was planted.

Corn grows best in warm, sunny weather (75°-86° F) with well-distributed moderate rains (or irrigation with 15 or more inches of water per season) and 130 or more frost-free days. For optimum growth and for top quality, the growing corn plant needs an adequate and balanced supply of all the essential nutrients, and it needs them throughout the growing. However, the peak time of nutrient need is in the middle of the growth cycle, when the greatest vegetative growth occurs, as well as during the reproductive and grain-filling period.

signs along a corn field
Understanding corn biology will help you increase your yields.

The great majority of U.S. corn is fed to livestock, both as grain and silage or fodder. Beef and dairy cattle, hogs, sheep, and poultry are the major consumers. Less than 10% is used for human consumption, but in recent years the production of corn-based ethanol has used up a sizeable proportion of corn production. Besides such familiar products as corn flakes, popcorn, corn meal, hominy, grits, corn starch, corn oil, corn syrup, and corncob pipes, other industrial uses include the production of chemicals (alcohols and liquors, acetone, furfural, antibiotics, enzymes, organic acids), plastics, paper, cardboard, insulation, grit for polishing, carrier for pesticides and fertilizers, animal litter, hand soaps, and cosmetics.

SOURCE: Gary Zimmer/From The Biological Farmer; Dr. Harold Willis/How to Grow Top Quality Corn

Learn in the field with Gary Zimmer!

The Acres U.S.A. On-Farm Intensive is held in partnership with experienced farm consultants Gary Zimmer and Leilani Zimmer-Durand at their famous Otter Creek Farm near Lone Rock, Wisconsin. This two-day educational experience will help farmers, growers and land owners maximize their land’s potential. Learn more here!