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Wet Spring Delays Corn Detassling

by Stan Maddux

Published: Friday, August 9, 2019

The late planting of corn this year is creating a shortage of labor for detassling in parts of northern Indiana and throughout the Midwest. Traditionally, much of the labor is provided by teenagers and young adults wanting to make some money during the summer.

This year, the young field hands are beginning school or heading off to college before seed corn, two to three weeks behind schedule from delays by the record wet spring, is ready for detassling.

Jerry Collanese of New Carlisle said he hired 30 workers for detassling this season on the farms he serves within a 30 mile radius of Plymouth. Collanese said he once had as many as 90 people to send out into the fields during the 1980's when interest among youth was higher in the labor intensive six to seven hour a day job.

The number he's been able to hire ever since has steadily dropped but making things more difficult this year is detassling running so late with school in Indiana starting nowadays in early to mid-August. College students also have to leave this year before the season is over, he said.

Normally, Collanese said he starts detassling on July 10 but he was 10 days late getting into the fields this year and with the work taking about a month to complete some of his laborers won't be able to finish.

"We're going to come up short this year,'' Colanese said.

Colanese said he's contracted to provide detassling by seed producer DuPont Pioneer which has migrant workers to dispatch into acreage his crews won't be able to get to.

The narrow window for detassling this year doesn't seem as great in Michigan where the school year, typically, begins later than Indiana.

A mandate for school in Michigan to start after Labor Day now gives schools the option to begin earlier. Laura Miller of Sturgis said she and her husband did not experience any shortage of labor for detassling they do for corn growers since the school year in her area doesn't start until Aug. 21.

The Miller's contracted by Bayer Seed Growth to provide the service were able to hire their usual 200 or so workers on target to complete detassling in all of their fields.

Originally, Miller said her detassling wasn't projected to start until July 20 but they were able to begin a week sooner than expected.

"We're going to have our acres in,'' she said.

Miller said also helping to maintain her labor pool is being a retired teacher with connections in the schools to help recruiting.

Workers 18 and over for Colanese are paid $11 an hour. His hourly wage is $9 for 17-year olds; $8 for 16-year olds and $7.25 for ages 14 and 15. Colanese said all of his workers also receive $10 an hour for their commute.

The Miller's pay first-year workers $8.50 an hour and a $1 hourly raise every year they return. Some of them perform other work in the fields before and after detassling season for extra money.

"We have many kids who work on our clean-up crews and our derowing crews that make almost $2,000 in a summer so that's really good for a kid,'' Miller said.

Detassling is done to cross pollinate two different types of corn to produce the best hybrid seeds possible for the following season.

Tassles broken from the tops of male corn plants are dropped to the ground and pollen from the tassles with help from the wind falls onto the silk of female corn plants.

Such hybridization is credited with helping to substantially increase yields nationwide over the past 60-years.

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