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Ag Education

Tall Corn

Published on Thursday, September 1, 2016

It’s back to school time in central Indiana, and one of my favorite parts of going back to school was summer break show and tell. One of our favorite things to show and tell here at Beck's is our tall corn. The tallest corn in the state, as a matter of fact. Beck's has entered the Indiana State Fair Tall Corn Contest in each of the past three years, and has won each year. This year’s plant is an impressive 25 feet, 4.25 inches tall from the ground to the tip of the tassel. This corn isn’t the high-yielding hybrid corn adapted to the Midwest that we spend most of our time with – this is a special exotic line from South America. 


John Perry, Shelby Reese and Cameron Colbert with the winning corn stalk in the Horticultural building at the Indiana State Fair.

In fact, this isn’t hybrid corn at all. The tall corn variety Beck's grows is an open pollinated variety or land race. The height doesn’t come from special fertilizer or foreign DNA, this corn just has a lot of genes that say “grow tall, grow tall, grow tall”. Grown outside, the plants would reach heights of 12 to 15 feet, and would have trouble staying upright. As the plant grows too tall for the stalk to support its own weight, it would fall down. Then the plant would put down new brace roots and make another go of it, turning at a 90-degree angle back up toward the sun. Hand harvesting means that this unconventional growth habit is a productive option in this particular environment. 


The 2016 Tall Corn Contest Blue Ribbon

Holly Marschand and the Beck’s research team grow the tall corn in the greenhouse, where all plants grow taller than they would outside. The greenhouse doesn’t provide the same strong, abundant light the plants get outside, so plants grow taller and taller searching for the sun. This is a good thing when it comes to the tall corn contest. The stalk can’t support the weight of the massive plant, and so the plant is secured to a piece of copper pipe as a bolster. It was planted in large pots on March 6 and harvested on August 3, making it about a 180-day maturity corn. This particular line doesn’t make much of an ear, and when the ear does form, it is 16 feet off the ground and has to be pollinated by hand. The grain doesn’t dent like field corn – the red and orange kernels are flinty. The whole plant was then slid inside a pipe for safekeeping and loaded onto a flatbed trailer for the thirty mile trip to the fairgrounds. 


Nick Koster holding an ear from the 2015 Tall Corn plant.

John Phillips, the director of the Grain & Hay division at the Indiana State Fair said of the contest, “Maybe in the good old days, using a draft horse for cultivation, you wanted a higher ear placement. You wanted the ear to be higher than the horse’s shoulder so it wouldn’t knock it off the stalk. Folks might have equated precocious vegetative growth as a sign of potential grain production at one time. In today’s world we are looking for shorter, highly productive corn not taller, but I suppose it is just the oddity of it all.”

The earliest record of the Indiana State Tall Corn contest is from 1938, the year after Beck's Hybrids began selling seed. The winner was Richard Jordan from Henry County, IN with his 16 feet, one-inch plant. Below, there is a picture of this winning plant from 79 years ago. 


Indiana State Tall Corn contest 1938 winner.  Photo courtesy the Indiana State Historical Society, P0490 used by permission. Available at:


According to Guinness, the world record corn plant is 35 feet, 3 inches, so there is work to do before next August’s state fair.


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Samantha Miller

Samantha Miller

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1 comments on article "Ag Education"

Tonya Findley

9/14/2017 5:08 PM

Hi- Researching tall seed corn so our family can have a go at it for the Iowa State fair and ran across your brand and blog about the Indiana state Fair. Is this seed available for purchase? Thanks! Lovilia, IA

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