Corn, also commonly referred to as maize, is a grain that was domesticated in prehistoric Central America. Today, corn is both eaten as a vegetable and used as a grain for a variety of culinary and other uses. It is the most widely cultivated grain in the world by weight and worldwide production is currently over 800 million tonnes. The largest producer of corn is the United States at approximately 333 million tonnes each year, which is more than double of the next largest producer (China). Let’s find out how corn is grown and harvested commercially.
How is corn grown?
Maize is intolerant of cold weather, which means that it is usually planted in the spring. The corn seeds are planted about 2.5 cm (1 in) deep and 7.5-10 cm (3-4 in) apart in long rows that are separated by approximately 60-80 cm (24-32 in). This spacing gives enough room for the plant to grow while increasing the chances of fertilization and making harvesting easier. Once the seeds are planted a fertilizer is added to improve growth. The seeds emerge in 1-2 weeks and are need to be protected from pests, disease and weeds so that they have the best chance of producing a good crop.
An alternative to directly planting seeds is to grow the corn seeds in a greenhouse and then replant the seedlings at a later date. This method is preferred if an early crop is desired or in areas with a colder start to spring.
How is corn harvested?
Depending on the weather and variety, corn is ready for harvesting about 55-95 days after planting. Corn is still harvested by hand in some cases, but this is time consuming and is not generally considered to be commercially viable. Instead, commercial farms will usually harvest the corn with a machine known as a combine harvester. The following video shows how a corn combine harvester works:
Did you know?
Pollen from corn can travel up to 6 m (20 ft), which means that different varieties should be separated by at least this distance to avoid cross pollination. This is generally undesired because it changes the taste and appearance of the corn!