The Story of a Seed: Open-Pollinated Corn Edition
How does a corn seed get from plant to packet? Read on to learn about the intricacies of open-pollinated corn development and production through looking at the variety Who Gets Kissed?. We hope the story of a seed entices you to try a new corn variety this season! To read about hybrid corn seed production, click here.
Sweet corn is an important crop for many organic farmers and gardeners, but for many years farmers like Martin Diffley, founder of Gardens of Eagan in Minnesota, couldn’t find an organic variety that worked on his farm. So, for the benefit of all organic growers, he collaborated with plant breeders to make one. The concept for Who Gets Kissed? sweet corn was born out of a collaborative partnership between Martin, Dr. John Navazio (then of Organic Seed Alliance), and Dr. Bill Tracy of the University of Wisconsin, along with his graduate students Jared Zystro and Adrienne Shelton. This team’s goal was to develop a sweet corn variety specifically designed to perform in organic growing conditions. They determined that the ultimate result should be an OP se (open-pollinated sugary enhanced) sweet corn with good cold soil emergence, early vigor, disease resistance, great flavor and large, well-filled ears. These specific traits had only existed before in hybrid varieties, and had never been attempted as an organic variety from the very beginning. (To learn more about sweet corn genetic types such as se, sy and sh2, please visit page 22 of our 2019 seed catalog.)
The development of this ground-breaking variety took many years. Once the goals of the project were articulated between Martin, Dr. Navazio and Dr. Tracy, the first planting was coordinated by Dr. Tracy’s graduate student, Jared, to include over a hundred breeding plots on Martin’s farm; Martin selected for the traits he wanted from the plots, and Bill and John ensured the correct pollinations were made to improve the variety.
Only a few plots had plants with the vigor, disease-resistance and good flavor that the team sought. That winter, seed from the best was sent to a “winter nursery” in Chile, and Bill continued crossing the best individuals and generating new families.
The next year these were planted on Martin’s farm, this time with Bill’s grad student Adrienne Shelton leading the evaluations and selections. After four more years of selecting supported by the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) and the USDA Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), Who Gets Kissed? was finally ready for producing seed on a commercial level, and for making the variety available for sale in 2014.
The Seed Grower
Once the breeders of Who Gets Kissed? determined that the variety was ready for seed production and selling, they approached High Mowing about licensing and growing the seed for sale. When High Mowing licenses a variety, it means we have legal permission from the breeder to grow the variety for seed, and we pay a percentage of our sales back to the breeder as a royalty payment. High Mowing worked with Organic Seed Alliance to find a suitable farmer partner who would grow Who Gets Kissed? sweet corn for seed. Doug and Antje Baty own and operate Wild Plum Farm in Dixon, Montana where they raise certified organic vegetables and seed crops, and have extensive experience with growing certified organic seed corn. They have served as the seed growers for the variety Who Gets Kissed? since its very first seed production. High Mowing is grateful to be working with such accomplished farmers and professional seed growers to ensure top quality for the farmers and gardeners who plant our Who Gets Kissed? seed.
The Seed Company
Once the seed is grown and harvested, it undergoes a series of quality control tests to ensure germination and purity. It is critical to note that corn is one of the highest risk crops for GMO contamination, which is one of the reasons certified organic corn seed is hard to come by. High Mowing tests every batch of corn seed that comes to our facility through our third party certifier, the Non-GMO Project, to ensure no GMO contamination has occurred in our corn seed lots.
Thanks to these hard-working and innovative breeders, High Mowing is able to make Who Gets Kissed? available to organic farmers and gardeners. As an open-pollinated variety, seeds from Who Gets Kissed? can be selected and saved; the breeders hope that growers will adapt the variety to the unique conditions in their own fields. High Mowing is proud to contribute 10% of our sales of Who Gets Kissed? back to Organic Seed Alliance to support future organic breeding efforts.
Finally, the seed arrives to its final location: the farm or garden where it will be grown into delicious sweet corn and – we hope! – become a family favorite.