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The Mystery of Dying Corn in Fields, Explained

Corn field in southwest Missouri.

Have you ever driven through a vast countryside, glanced at a cornfield and wondered why some of the corn appears to be dying and left untouched? This may seem like a trivial question, but the answer to this perplexing phenomenon is less complicated than it seems. As learned from being around farmers, I would like to explain why they leave some of the dying corn in the fields.

First of all, it is crucial to remember that not all corn is created equal. Farmers typically grow two kinds of corn: field corn and sweet corn. Field corn is primarily used for livestock feed, ethanol production, and industrial products. Sweet corn, on the other hand, is the corn we enjoy eating fresh and frozen. We harvest sweet corn at its peak, while field corn is left to dry until the husks turn brown and the kernels become hard. At this point, the corn is referred to as dent corn since the indentation on the top of the kernel is visible. Once the corn is fully mature, they harvest it and sell it to buyers.

Secondly, leaving some of the dying corn in the field has many advantages that benefit both the farmer and the environment. For starters, corn provides a natural ground cover that helps keep moisture in the soil, prevents soil erosion, and improves soil health. Leaving some of the corn behind allows it to decompose, returns nutrients back to the soil, and enriches it. Additionally, corn husks provide cover for wildlife and serve as a natural habitat for beneficial insects.

Thirdly, farmers often leave some of the corn behind as a food source for migratory birds like geese, ducks, and sandhill cranes that stop in our fields during their fall and spring migrations. The corn allows these birds to fatten up and continue their journey to warmer climates or back home for breeding. It is not uncommon for farmers to see significant flocks of birds lingering around their fields, enjoying the corn left behind.

Lastly, most farmers prefer to harvest their crops when the weather permits. When the corn has reached maturity, but the weather does not cooperate, they sometimes have to delay the harvest. During this time, the corn may begin to dry up or even start to rot. Leaving some of the dying corn behind ensures that they have something to sell when they finally can harvest. These corn stalks also serve useful as natural windbreaks, providing a protective barrier for crops in the field.

As you can see, leaving some of the dying corn in the field has many benefits for the environment, wildlife, and farmers. So the next time you pass by a cornfield and see some dying corn, remember it's not a waste, but a natural process that serves as a beneficial resource. A phenomenon that may once have seemed like a mystery to you, now becomes an opportunity to learn about the beauty and complexity of agriculture.