Simple demonstration is reminder: Seed corn has a shelf life

Simple demonstration is reminder: Seed corn has a shelf life

Corn Illustrated: Corn seed can last a long time if stored properly, but not forever.

A class project consisted of planting 100 seeds of four-year-old, one-year-old and new corn seed packed for 2015 in trays of growing medium. The seeds were actually planted 50 per tray so that it could be replicated – sort of. It was more of a demonstration than a replicated test, but some results were obvious.

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All these were sweet corn samples, and all were different varieties from different sources. That kind of kicks the experiment part in the teeth, but it's still interesting.

After three weeks, students counted plants and evaluated results. How many seeds germinated form the four-year-old corn?

Germination differences: At some point corn seed loses the ability to germinate, but it's usually somewhere far beyond one year of storage.

If you answered zero, you're wrong. Even after four years, stored where temperatures varied 50 degrees from summer to winter, about one of seven came up. That's 14%. Obviously you don't want to plant four-year old sweet corn.

The twist came on the one-year-old and new seed. The actual tally was 77% for the one-year-old seed and 70% for the new seed. The relatively low germination was likely because of how the trays were handled, sometimes drying out too long before being rewetted. But the point is the same. The one-year-old seed germinated the best.

Or at least that's what the students saw. The truth is that any scientist worth his salt would recognize that planting one-year-old seed or new seed is far superior to planting four-year-old seed. It hardly takes statistical analysis with the numbers found to document that point.

However, as loose as this experiment was, one-year-old and new seed would likely not vary significantly in germination percentage. It was a dead heat. What would seem obvious is that the one-year-old seed still germinated at a reasonably good rate.

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That's a good reminder since a lot of seed corn grown last year in a bumper year may be carried over. Previous experience indicates that as long as the seed is stored properly, which most seed companies do an excellent job of, and retested before being bagged, as required by law in most states, there shouldn't be any issues when that seed comes to market, even if it is next year.

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