Corn Detasseling

Posted on: March 29th, 2018 by Lucy Powis

What is corn detasseling?

Every corn plant has both male and female parts—the tassel and the silk, respectively. Detasseling is the process of removing the male parts of some rows in a cornfield in order to create strictly female plants, which can then be pollinated by the remaining male plants in the field. While mechanical pullers are used to pull as many tassels as possible, they typically only get about 70% of them, meaning that the rest have to be pulled by hand.

Why detassel?

Detasseling produces hybrid corn, which produces healthier corn crops with higher yields, as well as seed for the following year’s crops. In order to produce hybrid corn, plants have to be prevented from self-pollinating. Removing the tassels from some of the rows in a field ensures that the male plants fertilize the female plants. Once the corn is fully matured, the female plants get harvested, and the male plants get ploughed.

Who does this?

Detasseling is a common summer job for teenagers in the Midwest—so much so that it’s practically a rite of passage. Detasseling season often only lasts about three weeks in August, and with millions of acres of corn planted in the US, many hands are needed to get the job done. The work is grueling but necessary, pays well, and is often a great way to connect with other area teenagers as well.

How do you prepare for detasseling?

Detasselers wake up at the crack of dawn and are typically deployed to their field for the day in a bus with their co-workers. In preparation for a day of work, detasselers need to dress both for the heat and for the wet and often scratchy corn plants they will be walking through. They also typically wear bright-colored jackets in order to remain visible among the tall cornstalks. Detasselers typically work 10-hour days, and the pressure is high—in order for a field to “pass,” only 3 tassels in 1,000 can be missed.

Bobbie Clearly began previews at the Black Box Theatre on March 8, 2018 and will open on April 3, 2018. For tickets and information, please visit our website.

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2017-2018 Season, Bobbie Clearly

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