Blowing Corn


I had a crazy summer job in college catching corn boll weevil moths, and when I saw this video, something didn’t look right. Can you spot it? Only about 1 in 4 rows have tassels. I’m going to make a guess here: this must be a seed crop. Corn can self-pollinate when pollen from the tassel reaches the silks from the same plant. But when you want to make hybrid seeds—which will in turn make the corn that ends up on the table—you don’t want self-pollination. In this field, the tassels have been trimmed from the seed-producing plants. Wind can carry the pollen from male plants to the female silks, but wind isn’t always reliable. In addition, hot, dry days can kill off the pollen before it reaches a silk. That’s where the helicopter comes in. The rotorwash blows the pollen from the tassels and spreads it from the pollinator row to the seed rows. Even though it’s expensive to run the helicopter over the field, I imagine using the helicopter reduces the number of pollinator rows that are needed, and thereby increases the seed yield.

From the standpoint of getting this job done, there were a couple of things I was thinking about. The first one was that irrigation pivot. Working this low to the ground means you can’t let your guard down. From what I’ve read about ag work, you do a ground recon of the field and then recon it again from the air to spot all the possible obstructions. The pivots in our area are powered, but I’m not sure whether they use an underground line or draw electricity from another source. He’s also got to be working pretty close to the low-speed/low-altitude region of the dead-man’s curve. The corn fields I worked were maybe 7 feet high, but the irrigated ones around here look to be a couple of feet taller. When you can see the airspeed indicator, it doesn’t look like he’s above ETL while working. There are probably a couple of other hazards here. Lots of corn is grown in hot, humid places, so he’s got at least 2 of the 4 H’s working against him. The low airspeeds also raise the risk of LTE, and since the direction the corn is planted dictates his flight path, I’d be worried about VRS (aka, SWP) as well.

A friend of mine owns the local FBO, and knows my predicament (ie, no experience, no job). He suggested getting on with one of the ag operators, which I wouldn’t be too thrilled about. Not that I don’t think it wouldn’t be fun work, but low level, low time doesn’t seem like a good combination. Yet, I think this is the way some pilots build time, and one of my roommate’s from school is doing it.