Open Pollinated Corn Variety Trials and a Discussion of the Practical Implications for Open Pollinated Corn in Small Scale Whiskey Production
The goal of this study was to assess the feasibility of producing open pollinated (O.P) corn varieties as a grain source for the production of specialty whiskies. Low profit margins on corn grain as a commodity make it difficult for small to medium size farmers to grow corn competitively. Such farmers could benefit from a cash crop that could offer a higher profit margin. There is current popular interest in heirloom (old-time) grains, including O.P varieties. This may provide an opportunity for a distiller to develop a market for a specialty whisky using O.P. varieties. An advantage for O.P corn as a specialty crop for corn growers is the similarities in equipment, cultural practices, and inputs. No major conversion is needed. Field studies were initiated to determine the production potential and reliability of O.P. varieties in New York environments, and to identify the best varieties. Comparative yield trials were conducted over two growing seasons in various locations. Varieties were selected on the basis of anticipated adaptation to New York growing conditions, potential for grain production and commercial availability of seed. In 2001, seventeen open pollinated varieties along with a modern hybrid check were tested at Aurora, (central) and Kingston, (eastern), NY. In 2002, twenty varieties were planted at Aurora. Those considered earlier varieties were also planted at Bliss, (western). Also, in 2002, later varieties were planted at Kingston, and Pittsford, (western). All trials were set up in randomized complete block designs. Treatments consisted of two adjacent rows of each variety with approximately 36-40 seeds planted within each block. Each trial consisted of three blocks. The plots were thinned to a density of 18,000 plants/acre. Several major obstacles were observed First, yields of O.P. varieties were lower and more variable than yields of hybrids. The mean corn yield in bushels for New York State is 100.7 bu/acre (www.nass.usda.gov) averaged over the three years. (1999-2001). Many of the varieties in these trials occasionally performed at or above this level, but none consistently, except the hybrid checks. Stalks were also weak, blowing down in winds, and making harvest difficult. Perhaps most significantly, the data showed wide variation in variety performance between years and locations, even among the same varieties. Premium alcoholic beverage producers could tolerate high O.P. grain costs if they could develop a market for a high value specialty whiskey featuring an O.P. corn source. However they would need reliable grain supplies. In these studies O.P. corn production was erratic, and not dependable from year to year, or site to site. This lack of dependability would present an unacceptable business risk. One possible solution might be to develop a product based mostly on readily available, inexpensive hybrid corn grain, mixed with a small amount of open pollinated grain. If a business plan could be developed that protects against fluctuations of availability, the concept of using O.P. corn to differentiate a small batch premium alcoholic beverage might have potential for success. This could provide employment in the processing, distilling and bottling processes. And O.P corn might provide a profitable niche crop for a limited number of corn growers.
open pollinated; corn; field trials; whiskey
dissertation or thesis