# How far can corn pollen drift in the wind?May 18, 2009 9:28 AM   Subscribe

How far can corn pollen drift in the wind? 1 mile? 10 miles?

Hi all, I am doing some writing about the history and current practice of breeding corn and have a question about pollen drift. When the 19th century breeder James Reid developed Yellow Dent Corn, which is the norm today, he gave seed to his neighbors so as to prevent pollen contamination of his field. Today when farmers seed Genetically Modified Organisms, one of the main concerns environmentally is that the pollen from these will drift into the fields of neighbors. So my question is how far can corn pollen drift in the wind? 1 mile? 10 miles? More? Any thoughts would be most appreciated.
posted by tnygard to Science & Nature (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I don't think there's a firm limit. You might be able to find an average or typical distance, depending on local wind speeds, topography and such, but exceptional circumstances could occur anywhere.
posted by jon1270 at 9:36 AM on May 18, 2009

This article says from 60m to 200m. I could imagine a tornado hitting a stand of pollinating corn could disperse it further.
posted by JJ86 at 9:37 AM on May 18, 2009

Not specifically corn related, but researchers perform cannabis pollen counts in Southern Europe to measure the drift believed to be from Morrocco.

On the other hand, I have been told often (mostly by relatives surrounded by corn in Southern Indiana) that when growing backyard sweet corn that at least three rows are needed to ensure proper pollenation of the crop.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:42 AM on May 18, 2009

Best answer: Here you go. At 200m you'll get about 1% of the concentration that you would get at 1m.

In the right conditions, however, there is a chance of pollination at up to 180km (112 miles). Pollen concentration falls as a function of distance, so it's not so much a question of how far as how likely pollination is for a given distance. The absolute limit will be a function of the amount of time the pollen is viable (24 hours) and atmospheric consditions.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 9:44 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Here's the original 1972 study cited in the report from JJ86.
posted by plinth at 10:49 AM on May 18, 2009

On the other hand, I have been told often (mostly by relatives surrounded by corn in Southern Indiana) that when growing backyard sweet corn that at least three rows are needed to ensure proper pollenation of the crop.

Yeah, they tell you this to ensure good pollination, but they also tell you (if you're going to save seed) to separate distinct varieties by like a half-mile to ensure the next generation breeds true. You are dealing with two opposite ends of the likelihood spectrum.
posted by jeb at 11:13 AM on May 18, 2009

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