Among Steve’s objectives with the museum and expo is an effort to help today’s farmers and the general public understand the significance of corn to Iowa’s agricultural history. He also wants to highlight how hybrid corn development, in which Shelby County farmers were deeply involved, drove significant changes in American agriculture as a whole.
“The corn plots readily demonstrate how the quality of corn plants has improved over the last 100 years,” Steve says. “It also gives visitors a chance to see what wire-checked corn is. That’s a process my grandfather used. I wanted to see what it was like, too. By having the plots right outside the museum, I can hold a brief presentation during the expo that explains why open pollinated corn often ended up on the ground before it could be picked, why yields were so much less before hybrids were developed and how those new hybrids spurred development of corn pickers and tractors.”
James L. Reid (1844-1910) is a long-honored “pioneer corn breeder” who developed Reid’s Yellow Dent, a highly productive open-pollinated corn variety that was widely adapted and grown throughout the United States. The inbred lines of many present-day hybrids can be traced back to Reid’s Yellow Dent.
Open-pollinated corn varieties proved to have weak stalks that left much of the corn crop on the ground. When early 1900s scientists discovered how heredity influenced plant development and function, the process for creating more satisfactory corn varieties with more desirable traits was set in motion. In the hybrid development process, outstanding individual open- pollinated corn plants were collected by scientists, purified by self-fertilization (selfing or inbreeding) and one inbred parent was crossed with another to produce hybrid vigor. “Scientists still don’t completely understand how hybrid vigor occurs,” Steve says. “But there’s no disputing the results. Scientists are now creating hybrid seeds with yield potential that would have astounded our forefathers.
”Part of Steve’s expo is a 20-minute presentation about the facts behind hybrid corn development and the role Shelby County farmers played in the process. It all started when Shelby County farmers submitted corn ears that took first prize at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair in World Championship competition.