By Ken de la Bastide
CNHI News Service
TIPTON — Along a narrow county road surrounded on both sides by acres of corn, there is a flurry of activity as a number of carriers, each transporting 12 high school students, emerge.
Starting at 7 a.m., the teenagers don rain coats, protective eye wear, gloves and long-sleeve shirts to continue a Midwest tradition -- detasseling corn.
With one pass through the field that seems to stretch for miles, the teens are soaked. Later in the day, as the summer sun reaches its zenith in the sky, the morning dew will be replaced by beads of sweat.
Steve Strakis, assistant manager for Pioneer Seeds in Tipton, said the company will hire as many as 750 students to detassel the seed corn this year at more than $8 per hour.
Savannah Duchateau, 14, Greentown, is in her second year of detasseling corn and is saving the money for insurance on a car.
“My mom detasseled and (her parents) didn’t think I could do it,” she said of how she got started. “I wanted to prove them wrong.”
Duchateau admitted after her experiences last year, she didn’t intend to return this year, but a cousin talked her into another year.
“It’s really itchy,” she said of the corn.
Getting up at 5 a.m., Duchateau said there are no late nights during the work week.
“They should do it,” she advised other young people of doing the work. “It’s really worth it.”
Jimmy Evans, 15, Greentown, is working his first year as a crew leader and is in his third year with Pioneer.
“I make sure they get all the tassels,” he said of his job, “and make sure no one is playing around and throwing the tassels at each other.”
A part of Evans’ job, which he admitted is better, is to drive the carriers.
He is saving the money he earns to purchase a pickup truck.
“Everyone told me how tough a job it would be,” he said. “My dad detasseled corn. He had some horror stories.”
Chad Newcom, along with his brother, owns the farm field where the teenagers were working. He plants seed corn for Pioneer every year.
“Growing up on a farm, I had lots of first jobs,” he said. “I detasseled when I was younger. We had machines back then, walking the fields was before my time.”
Newcom said when the teenagers are hired, he doesn’t sugar-coat what the job will be like.
“When they come out, they’re ready to work,” he said. “We want them to expect the worst when they come out.”
Strakis said it is a tough, demanding job but it’s also a character builder.
He explained several passes are made through a field to make sure all the tassels are removed.
The goal is to detassel 99.7 percent of the corn so the seed is not contaminated, meaning it can be used as seed and not turned into a commercial crop.
“Their job is crucial to us,” Strakis said. “It’s a key role for us.”
The detasseling process started two weeks ago and approximately 25 percent of the fields are completed. Strakis said there are between 8,000 and 10,000 acres of seed corn in the three-county region covered by the Tipton plant.
Strakis said Pioneer has four plants in Indiana with operations in Plymouth, Rushville and Worthington that will employ 4,500 kids.
By Ken de la Bastide
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