By Tanner White, student intern for the South County News
Many local Vicksburg and Schoolcraft teens in search of summer work often turn to corn detasseling. The job of detasseling entire fields over long days can be daunting and monotonous. Most workers are middle school and high school students from the ages of 12 to 18. Detasselers often work up to eight hours a day in nearly any weather conditions. Corn rash, blisters, sunburns, and soreness are just a few of the unpleasant results of such hard work.
Regardless, many teens take on corn detasseling as their first job.
Corn is the most prevalent crop in Michigan, with over 300 million bushels produced annually. Fields in Kalamazoo and St. Joseph counties are exceptionally fit to grow corn due to the fertility of soil and to the high water tables providing easy irrigation.
What is corn detasseling? What makes hiring of local teens so crucial, and why do so many kids choose corn detasseling over other summer jobs?
Detasseling is the process of removing the tassel, a pollen-producing flower, from the tops of maize plants and placing them on the ground. This serves as a manner of controlling pollination, ensuring that pollen from one stalk doesn’t fertilize an ear of corn on a different stalk. The hybrid plants that result are more genetically similar, show stronger resistance to weather and disease and give a higher yield of corn overall. The corn produced from hybrid plants is specifically grown as seed corn, meaning it produces a desirable seed that will be replanted the following year.
The length of the detasseling season varies each year. A short season may last only two weeks, while a long season may last nearly an entire month. A season that starts very early may open around the 4th of July, and detasseling season rarely lasts long into August. The variation from season to season depends on weather, irrigation, insect activity, and a host of other factors. The longer the season, the more money a detasseler can make!
Detasselers are held to high standards to ensure a healthy corn yield each year. Most companies seek well over 99 percent of tassels removed per row. Despite these pressures, children across the state are willing to detassel for several years. Although it may be too late to find a spot on a local crew this year, those wishing to detassel should check back around April of next year. Nearly all local companies offer a per-year wage increase to encourage workers to return. The ability to earn an extra dollar per hour or more with experience keeps many coming back. Anyone seeking a contractor for employment is recommended to contact Nemire’s Detasseling (firstname.lastname@example.org) or a local detasseling crew.