Hybrid Corn Adoption in Greene County, Iowa

Going through some files I came across a summary that I had put together about the adoption rate of hybrid corn in Greene County, Iowa. It was based on a survey of growers that asked about the factors that influenced them to use hybrid seed (versus saved seed from open pollinated plants) and how long it took for them to plant it on all their acres.

This summary is adapted from a 1943 article, The Diffusion of Hybrid Seed Corn in Two Iowa Communities and was published in Rural Sociology by authors B. Ryan and N. Gross. Here are their basic findings:

  • The authors surveyed 257 farmers to explore how they first learned about hybrid corn, the sources from which they gathered information about the merits and performance of hybrid seed and how long it took for them to adopt it on 100% of their acreage.
  • On average, it took approximately five years to adopt hybrid corn after first learning of it.  After first using it on the farm, it took only about three years to adopt it on 100% of their acreage.
  • The farmers “original” knowledge, or awareness, of hybrid corn came primarily from salesmen (49% of the farmers cited salesmen),  neighbors (14.6%), Farm Journal magazine (10.7%), radio advertising (10.3%), relatives (3.5%) and the Extension Service (2.8%).
  • The farmers “most influential” source for causing them to plant hybrid corn were the neighbors (45.5% citing them as most influential) with salesmen a relatively close second (32.0%).  All other sources registered less than 7%.
  • 80% of the adoption of hybrid corn occurred in approx. 5 years, from 1933 to 1939 (see figure below).

Very few technologies in any sector of life see an adoption rate like this. It is quite remarkable, really. Similar acceptance was seen with specific biotech traits in plants but readers will be hard pressed to list many others, especially in agriculture. Horses to tractors? Nitrogen fertilizer usage after WWII? Atrazine or 2,4-D in the 1950s or 1960s? Wouldn’t it be fun to sit down with Dad or Grandpa and hear about what they experienced?

There are countless books and articles in the public domain about hybrid corn. The people, the seed, the science – it’s all out there for the curious to consume. Enjoy!

I want you to do well. ~ph