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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Take a Walk Through Corn's History at Farm Science Review

July 21, 2009

LONDON, Ohio -- The evolution of corn in North America, spanning about 1,000 years, will be part of a new exhibit at Ohio State University's Farm Science Review.

From teosinte (pronounced teo-sin-tay), considered the ancestor of modern-day corn, to today's genetically modified varieties, 19 corn cultivars will be showcased in demonstration plots at the entrance of Gate C, located on the east end of Friday Avenue within the FSR exhibit area.

Farm Science Review will be held Sept. 22-24 at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center in London, Ohio.

Jonah Johnson, an Ohio State University Extension educator in agriculture and natural resources, who established the history of corn demonstration plots, said that the purpose of the "Changing Faces of Corn" exhibit is to educate visitors on how corn characteristics have changed over time and how crop performance has improved with advancements in technology.

"Just by seeing how each corn variety is performing in each plot, visitors will be able to get a sense of how much corn has changed over the years, and how fortunate we are that through science and technology, corn varieties have gotten so much better," said Johnson.

Johnson said that how modern corn fared against ancestral corn when Hurricane Ike blew through Ohio last September is a testament to technological advances.

"Our intent was to have this exhibit on display during last year's Farm Science Review and when Hurricane Ike came through, the winds just laid that ancestral corn on the ground," said Johnson. "The modern corn was a bit wind-blown and twisted, but remained upright."

The corn demonstration plots begin with teosinte, a grass found in Mexico and Central America that many believe played a major role in corn evolution because of its resemblance to the crop. Other corn cultivars showcased include Longfellow O.P. flint, an early type of open-pollinated corn; pod corn, whose seeds are individually wrapped in the husk, as opposed to the entire ear; Oh43, an Ohio-bred corn important in modern corn development; B73 and Mo17, hybrids popular throughout the 1950s and 1960s; today's conventional non-traited hybrids; and a quad-stacked biotech cultivar.

Johnson said that visitors viewing the plots might see obvious differences among the cultivars, including plant color (some early varieties were purple and red); plant height (early varieties were much shorter than today's hybrids); ear size (today's corn hybrids produce ears twice the size of older cultivars); root development (earlier varieties had more shallow, smaller root systems); and crop performance.

"Science has afforded us cultivars that can resist insects and diseases and hold up better in adverse weather conditions, traits that are absent in earlier corn cultivars. Earlier varieties just don't have those natural defenses," said Johnson. "The corn plots right now look great, but I am concerned that the insects will get to them."

In addition to the corn demonstration plots, OSU Extension will also showcase herbicide and fungicide demonstration plots to educate visitors about different chemical application programs. The demonstration area is also located along Gate C of the FSR exhibit grounds.

The herbicide demonstration plot consists of 10 different programs, applied at three different times during the corn crop's development. The idea, said Johnson, is to help farmers determine the best time to apply herbicides that not only optimizes performance, but also is the least expensive. The fungicide demonstration plots showcase the performance of Headline, Quadris, Stratego and Quilt against an untreated plot.

In addition to the new demonstration plots, the popular Trotter field demonstrations will continue at this year's event. Equipment dealers will show off new products and agricultural technology throughout the afternoon during all three days. Visitors can take the wagons from the exhibit area to the fields to see demonstrations of corn harvest, no-till, strip-till, GPS technology, manure application, tillage and soybean harvest. Check the FSR Web site at for the demonstration schedule.

Farm Science Review is sponsored by the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. It attracts upwards of 140,000 visitors from all over the country and Canada, who come for three days to peruse 4,000 product lines from 600 commercial exhibitors, and learn the latest in agricultural research, conservation, family and nutrition, and gardening and landscape.

Tickets are $8 at the gate or $5 in advance when purchased from county offices of OSU Extension or participating agribusinesses. Children 5 and younger are admitted free. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 22-23 and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 24.

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Candace Pollock
Jonah Johnson