WAXAHACHIE — When some Ellis County residents began mentioning free corn off of U.S. Highway 77, others thought it was just too good to be true. After consulting with Mark Arnold, county extent agent for agriculture for Ellis County, the county coordinator for the Texas A&M extension confirmed what the latter thought.
“This is not for the public to eat, this is a test plot,” Arnold said. “Number one, it is way past 'eating corn.' It’s hard now and it’s not hard enough yet to be ground into corn flour or anything like that. Secondly, it is to be harvested for livestock feed, and then they’ll compare the yield for those different varieties. This corn is being harvested for that and that only."
The process, which Ark Country Store owner Reggie Underwood has been practicing for 40 years, is performed to determine which varieties of corn are the toughest and will yield the best crop for growers in Ellis County. Once completed, the corn will be harvested and go into the local market, made into cattle feed or even be ground into flour and made into corn chips.
But before all of this, it first has to stand trial.
“What this is is a test plot,” said Underwood of the land along U.S. Highway 77 between the Waxahachie Senior Center and Dunaway Elementary. “It’s an educational plot for the local farmers and agriculture producers to learn more about what varieties are going to yield the most and work the best for our particular area.”
While those who’ve picked and eaten an ear of the deemed “special corn” won’t necessarily be harmed, Underwood said that something else will be.
“Yes, there’s people who will eat field corn, and there’s nothing wrong with that," the Tarleton State University graduate and longtime farmer said. “It’s just that we try to discourage it out there because every ear we take off of those plants could reduce the yield and then the variety wouldn’t really look good. It would make it look less than ideal for the production.”
The field itself was not just chosen randomly, either. According to DuPont Pioneer, an agent for Ark Country Store and “large player” in agriculture seeds, there are many factors that go into determining where to plant a crop, stated Arnold.
One of the biggest being the Texas heat.
“We use this space a lot for trials to demonstrate what’s most advantageous to the grower and also what has the best impact for our neighborhood,” Underwood said. “What we try to do in Texas is get the corn to its physical maturity before it gets too hot.”
For those who thought agriculture was just about farming and planting corn, Underwood continues to prove that there is much more involved. For example, field tests require numerous formulas and numbers just to determine the yield or bushels per acre.
“There’s a specific formula we use to calculate yield: it’s the number of rows around and the number of kernels deep, plus the number of plants per acre,” he said. “So if you take this plant right here and count that it’s 16 around and 42 deep, you’ll then take that and multiply it by 43, and then you’ll multiply it one more time, and then you’ll get your yield potential around there.”
Such field tests are beneficial to farmers, as was shown last week when more than 50 farmers attended Ellis County’s “Field Day,” which was spent planting 12 different varieties of corn with hopes of informing farmers about different soils, hybrids and even environmental safety.
“I’d been in the business for about 40 years, and I realized we needed to show other people this process, not just tell them,” Underwood said. “Our objective out here was to provide a demonstration that this leading genetic is truly tested here locally because growers here know that soils are different everywhere. So while the soil in Nebraska is going to be different from the soil in Ellis County, a lot of what we do as growers is the same.”
While this corn is not and will not be available for the public to pick and eat, it will eventually go on to serve the community in many other ways.
That is, if folks can just be patient.