What if Ears Had 50 Kernels Per Row?

Super yields if you have enough of them.

Published on: Oct 12, 2010

There's a trivia Web site that must have got some of their answers out of the Cracker Jack box. Or else perhaps some employees write fortune cookies, and they got their wires crossed. The Web site says that the average ear of corn has 18 rows of kernels around - that's fine. But then it says it has 50 kernels per row.

That's 800 kernels per ear. More commonly, ears with 18 rows have 35 kernels per row, or 630 kernels per ear. One seedsman commented that he wished their corn could have 50 kernels per ear.

In earlier days, perhaps ears did. But there likely weren't 18 rows of kernels, and there were likely closer to 20,000 plants per acre, not 32,000.

Here's some simple 'corny' math. In the old days, at 14 rows per ear and 50 kernels per row, this is still a stretch, that's 155 bushels per acre. Fifty years ago most people would have likely settled for 155 bushels per acre.

With the modern ear, 32,000 ears with 18 rows with 35 kernels per row comes out to 224 bushels per acre. That's a realistic situation. This year, kernel size and test weight have been lacking. The hot summer nights took their roll in terms of extra respiration. Yields have been on the down side of the 200 bushels per acre range, although some 200 plus have been reported. In northern states where that wasn't a factor, it may be different.

Now let's try out mythical ear. Say we had 32,000 ears at 18 rows at 50 kernels per ear. That would work out to 288 bushels per acre.

Obviously, that would be one way to move toward 300 bushels per acre. Most plant breeders and seed companies seem headed the other way. Boost the population, either by superior genetics and leaf configurations that make better use fo the light, or be different planting configurations, such as narrow rows or twin rows, to get more light interception. Then boost population and keep ear size where it is today.

How high would we need to go to hit 300 bushels per acre. Let's try 40,000 ears. Then 40 ears times 18 times 35 kernels equals 280 bushels per acre. But 40 times 20 rows times 40 kernels per ear equals 355 bushels per acre.

So is 300 bushel on a routine basis that far off? It wills till take some tweaking- more ears, somewhat bigger ears, somewhat more girthy ears, and it will likely be possible. Don't expect 50 kernels per ear to be part of that equation.