Open Pollinated Corn – the Better Option
by Mark DeKorne of Ellsworth, MI
My open pollinated corn (OPC) endeavors began when I became disenchanted with commercial hybrid seed corn, which just happened to be around the same time that mega agribusiness’s “the big Evil” started to play with God’s patent on seed, and laid claim to it as their own: Frankencorn! Scientists playing around with genes of other plants and animals just to keep investors happy with their bottom lines. I needed to figure out a future for my farm. Buying high priced hybrid seed corn is not sustainable; just does not fit my farm.
The solution began by recollections of past conversations with my Grandpa who has been gone since 1986. He had told me about the varieties that had been grown on the old homestead with success. The closest one I could find was Krugs, and it did not work out very well. Here in northwest lower Michigan the growing season is comparatively short and I had trouble getting it ripe enough to crib. The growing season at my farm is about two weeks shorter than on the old homestead. Krugs would be great for filling a silo, but I don’t make silage. I tried Krugs from different producers with generally the same results. Then I read something that gave me hope.
Small Farmer’s Journal had an article about “Painted Mountain Corn” with referrals which I checked out. In just a short time I was talking to the man who was instrumental in developing Painted Mountain Corn. He referred me to Frank Kutka who is an OPC specialist, and puts together a newsletter for OPC growers called Corn Culture [now on Facebook]. I asked quite a few questions, and generally picked Frank’s brain. He made suggestions on different varieties, and where to obtain them.
Frank pointed out two sources: Vaughn Emo with Green Haven O.P. Seed Group in New York, and Victor Kucyk in Ontario. I ordered Early Riser from Vaughn which is fantastic for this area; I grew it with great success. Frank also told me of a program where one can order one hundred to two hundred seeds for thousand of varieties of plants. Frank made several suggestions, but one stood out from the rest, Ranger Corn.
Henry Ranger raised this corn on his farm years ago out on the Leelanau Peninsula, this would make it nearly 15 miles west of my farm near Atwood, and across the Grand Traverse Bay. I had a little test plot of Ranger Corn near the barn and grew it until I had enough to plant a four-acre field. This may be the biggest planting of Ranger since Mr. Ranger planted it himself. Hopefully I will be able to preserve, maybe even improve, Ranger Corn on this farm.
I have one gigantic problem with growing OPC, no matter what variety, and that is wildlife. Deer are the main cause of damage, but turkey, raccoon, and porcupine also do their share. I have cruised my neighbor’s commercial hybrid and “Frankencorn” fields, and there is not near the damage. Could it be that the animals know what is better? I believe so. Something I tell my neighbors when they laugh at my methods or “experiments,” it is not progress if you’re headed in the wrong direction.
I do my farming with a pair of Suffolk Punch mares. My wife, son, and I have a sugar bush, asparagus patch, market garden, and a portable sawmill. I also have a day job in town – its days are numbered.