numeric-coded cornfields?

What’s up with the signs, placed along roads that border corn (or other grain) fields, usually with a logo and a four or five-digit number imprinted on them? I see these all over the place, but I’ve never known what they indicate.

While I’m at it, I guess I might as well give props to one of my favorite strange corporate logos, the winged ear of corn bearing the name “DEKALB” in red letters.

The logo is the company and the number is the varitation of seed used in that field. So DEKALB 56755 would tell a person looking at the crop that this is what seed variation 56755 of DEKALB corn looks like.

There’s a little more to it than that. The choice of seed is a big decision for a farmer, and he’ll check out other hybrids to see how they compare to the seed he bet all his chips on. Sometimes, a seed company will set up a demo patch with 3 or 4 of their hybrids side by side as a rural showroom.

It got a little trickier with the advent of genetically modified corn from Monsanto that’s immune to Roundup® herbicide. It’s tightly controlled, and you can only get it from Monsanto. So, Monsanto guys will sneak into a field and spray a little patch with Roundup®. If the corn doesn’t die in a few days, they know it’s black-market Monsanto corn, and they sue the farmer.

I’m not a farmer, but hybrid corn is big around here, so I know more about it than the average city boy.

You can get more information from Monsanto’s Dekalb page (although it helps if you already know that bu/A is a measure of yield by bushels per acre or that dryness is a measure of a crop’s ability to resist post harvest mildew and rot).

There are a lot of variables when raising crops, and each hybrid seed type has been engineered to meet different conditions. Land that will typically not dry out from the spring floods until the second week of June will only produce a good crop if the seeds can be planted in wet soil or if the maturation period is short enough to permit the harvest before the winter (or fall rains) interfere with the harvest. Other seeds will do better in drier conditions or will take longer to grow, but yield more bushels per acre or will be less susceptible to a particulare disease.

Following the Seed Catalog hyperlink on the page linked, above, you can select a crop (such as corn), then a seed variety (such as DK611) and get a list of all the tested variables for each variety. The variables include (but are not limited to) growth periods, richness of the soil required (which affects how much fertilizer the farmer must buy), dryness, yield per acre, and resistance to various insects and diseases.

When a farmer posts (or allows his agent to post) the hybrid number alongside his fields, he is passing on information to his neighbors.