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Tire-Eating Cornstalks

I fantasize about genetically-engineering deer that would love the taste of raccoons or that would eat car tires so society would do something about surging wildlife populations. But now a true occurrence is taking place in Foolish Farming Today that not even a genius like Mark Twain could reduce to a more absurd conclusion. Agribusiness has succeeded in developing corn varieties that eat tractor tires. Do not laugh. This is not a joke. Corn stalks are so tough nowadays that tractor tires running over them repeatedly during field operations are wearing out faster than anyone anticipated and costing farmers big money. The problem stems (I use that verb with malice aforethought) from a culmination of factors that result when greed is the only way left to make a profit in farming. Corn breeders have increased the strength of corn stalks over the years to the point where they have become nearly as tough and splintery as wood. Hybrid stalk strength was the salvation of corn in the early years when old open-pollinated varieties blew over every time the wind shifted. But the cure is bringing on more problems. Abrasion from these tough, strong stalks after harvest wears away the tires of tractors and combines that grind over them repeatedly. Some farmers want to blame GMO corn but of course the seed companies all piously say it is not their super-duper new varieties causing the problem, but someone else’s. The reason it is hard to fault genetic modification alone is that farmers are planting corn much denser than they used to, upwards of 35,000 plants per acre which was once unheard of (and makes drought worse). That means a heap of plant residue on the soil surface after harvest, whether it’s GMO or non-GMO hybrids. These modern hybrid stalks, like wood chips, are slower to rot away into organic matter. The buildup becomes sort of like sandpaper for the tires to travel on. Where corn is planted continuously on the same ground year after year, the problem is worse of course, but even every other year in a corn/soybean rotation, the residue builds up faster than it can rot away. Also with all that ground cover, the soil is slower to warm up in the spring and the residue is harder to incorporate into the soil for a good seed bed. All sorts of new and expensive machines are coming on the market to chop up the stalks or crush them and integrate the residue better and deeper into the soil. Read the rest over at The Contrary Farmer.

sanctuaryoftrees Gene Logsdon is the author of, most recently, A Sanctuary of Trees: Beech Nuts, Birdsongs, Baseball Bats, and Benedictions

A Small Thing But Maybe Not

All summer I raved and ranted at the squirrels that were eating the corn in my crib. I was particularly concerned because the drought seemed to be making sure this year’s crop was going to be a bust. I did not look forward to buying corn at drought-inflated prices just to keep squirrels fat eating […] Read More..

Fires In the Fields

If you want to see the landscape of hell painted prettily on a farmland horizon, watch a field of corn on fire. It is hellish enough, in my view, to see corn fields stretching away in every direction from sea to shining sea with no houses, barns, trees, fences, grazing animals or any other sign […] Read More..

Weeds That Like A Sip of Roundup Now and Then

First the glorious days of advanced farming brought us corn stalks that eat tractor tires. Now there’s a weed that likes to drink weed killers, especially Roundup. Recently Palmer amaranth “completely overran” most of the soybean test plots at Bayer CropScience’s test plots in Illinois, in the words of DTN/Progressive Farmer editor, Pam Smith, despite […] Read More..

The Weather May Not Be the Problem

There are so many stark contrasts in the world today. These are times out of which great epics of literature ought to be written but aren’t. Society is too engrossed in drivel like whether badminton players in the Olympics were cheating or not. This summer, the driest in 50 years in parts of the Midwest, […] Read More..

Feeding The Buzzards

Walking over the brow of a hill in my pasture, I came upon the most ghastly, heart-stopping sight I’ve ever seen on the farm, or anywhere else for that matter. Perched on six fence posts in a row were six turkey vultures, alias Cathartis aura, or what we call buzzards. What made the scene so […] Read More..