03 August 2005

Now That's Corn!

When we think about the helicopter, we generally think of it as a transportation device.

People, parts, mail, etc., are all moved by helicopters.
I'll blog about the different things I've done and have heard done in helicopters sometime in the future.

A few days ago I did something that was a first for me:
Pollinating Corn!

And the only thing I had to move with the helicopter?

Here's the idea:
I was flying for a company that produces and sells seed to farmers. They were developing new hybrid seeds to sell to their customers.

To do this, they plant the female "receiver" corn in rows of four, and then plant a row of the "male" corn. When the plants grow tassels, the "female" receivers have their tassels removed. This is a labor-intensive process........done by hand by migrant workers.

So here's the picture: in the center of nine rows of corn, you have a row of plants with tassels........four rows of de-tasselled females on either side of the male row with tassels intact.
My task was to hover over the male plants and shake the pollen from the tassels onto the silks of the female plants.

We had to wait until the morning dew had dried from the plants. Dew drops preclude the pollen from sticking to the silks that extend from the end of each ear. Each individual silk is attached to the ear of corn, and if it receives a grain of pollen, will grow a corn kernel. If the silk doesn't receive a pollen grain, no kernel will form.

We were told if we did our job properly, we could increase the number of kernels formed, and therefore the total bushel-per-acre yield of the fields, by up to 30%!
Well worth the cost of the helicopter!

By the time the dew was dried, the ambient temperature was 94 degrees F. Wind was straight out of the South at 8 knots.
The wind made the temperature more bearable, but was problematic for doing the work because most of the rows were planted North-South, making the turn at the South end of the fields a downwind turn.

We found that if I flew over the "male" row just on the flying side of translational lift.....about 15 knots.......literally dragging my skids through the tassels, I was shaking all the female plants on either side of the males.
This meant those females were all getting a solid dose of pollen from the center row.

Corn fields in this area are large.......some have 7-800 acres of corn. Rows can be more than a mile long! At the speed I was traveling, moving from the start of a row to the end seemed to take forever!

Full of fuel, the downwind turn was treachery......carelessly done, the machine could easily settle into the 6 feet tall corn, downwind, and cause who-knows-what kind of damage to the tail rotor and the machine in general!
We wanted to avoid this even if it meant losing money on the job!

At the end of the day we had flown over 683 acres.
It took 6.9 hours to do this work, so we averaged pretty close to 100 acres per hour.

Terry N. was faithful as always with fuel truck and cold refreshments.
Terry just got his commercial helo license. We are trying to bring him aboard slowly with different aspects of commercial work.
So he could learn the work, he flew about 2 hours of the 6.9 hours over the corn.

I flew 4.9 hours over the corn, and 2.8 roundtrip to the worksite, for a total in my logbook of 7.7 hours for the day!

7.7 hours at 100 degrees, doing work this stressful, equals an old helicopter pilot that has to be removed from the helicopter at the end of the day with a spatula!

1 comment:

Medic Mom said...

And you are hearby christened "Father Corn".

One thing is for sure. You do not lead a borning life.