Plant Health Program, Doctor of


Document Type

Doctoral Document

Date of this Version

Spring 5-6-2016


Pruitt, Jon Derek. 2016. A Brief History of Corn: Looking Back to Move Forward. UNL Doctor of Plant Health Doctoral Document.


A Doctoral Document Presented to the Faculty of The College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Plant Health, Under the Supervision of Professor Gary L. Hein. Lincoln, Nebraska: May 2016

Copyright (c) 2016 Jon Derek Pruitt


Maize was domesticated from teosinte in Mexico some 7,000 to 10,000 years ago and quickly spread through the Americas. It has become one of the most important crops at a local and global level. Two types, Northern Flint corn and Southern Dent corns provided the basis of the genetic background of modern maize hybrids. The development of hybrids, first double-cross and later single-cross hybrids, along with a transition to high input farming provided huge yield increases, which have continued to improve with improving technology.

Increase in maize production also caused a rise in Western corn Rootworm (Diabrotica virgifera virgifera LeConte). As maize cultivation increased it spread from Eastern Colorado into Nebraska in the 50’s, Indiana by the 70’s and the East coast by the 90’s, and even Europe in 1992. A broadcast soil application of organochlorine insecticides was a common control tactic beginning in the late 40s. By 1959 control failures were noted and resistance spread with the concurrent corn rootworm range expansion. Resistance spread into areas where organochlorine insecticides had never been used. New modes of action were adopted and, more importantly, new management practices reducing selective pressure. In 2003 Bt traits for rootworm control were released, but by 2009 resistance was documented. The Western corn rootworm has proven highly adaptable to control measures, including rotation.

Many challenges face agriculture in the future including water use, soil degradation, pest and disease control issues, and stagnant yield potentials. Despite these challenges, a great deal of technological advances such as precision agriculture, improved molecular techniques, and better adoption and implementation of Integrated Pest Management will provide effective tools for addressing these challenges.

Addressing the challenges of the future is not an issue of technology. Maize is more than a commodity; it has been and continues to be an essential part of our culture. The objective of this work is to illustrate that addressing the human dimension of these challenges will be crucial to addressing the current and future issues in agricultural production. Two separate examples of how this is being addressed are discussed.

Advisor: Gary L. Hein