Corn is one of the most common agricultural crops around the world. The crop got its start from the humble teosinte, a Mexican grass that was selectively bred and domesticated over 10,000 years to increase ear size and number of kernels to become the corn crop we know today.
Teosinte still has relevance today as a potential cover crop. Mexican researchers found that the hard-seeded grain grows well in a variety of ecological conditions, including hot and humid regions to temperate and dry valleys, making it a good choice of cover crop for a range of soil types and climates.
While teosinte resembles Indian corn, the leaves are longer and broader, and the stalk is filled with sweeter sap. Teosinte can grow to be up to 10 feet tall and needs at least 5-6 months of good weather before tasseling. There are no serious pests or diseases that affect teosinte.
In 2018, USDA NRCS completed 4 years of evaluating cover crops that grow well in warmer weather, including teosinte. The study found that teosinte produces dense stands that yield large amounts of biomass, approximately 20-30 tons per acre.
Research done at the University of Sargodha in Pakistan found that teosinte yielded 27-55% more biomass than corn. The University of Kentucky also assessed teosinte as a cover crop in 2018, and found it to be heat tolerant, excellent at suppressing weeds and a great choice for helping build the soil.
However, there is a potential for teosinte to become an annual weed problem if it is not properly terminated, and it took a while for the stand to become established. Growers in several states have already been using teosinte as a potential forage crop for silage or hay, including Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
In India, teosinte is highly valued as silage with advantages over corn silage such as multiple cuttings, high nutritive value and ease of cultivation. If managed for multiple cuttings, teosinte can result in up to 4 cuttings during the growing season.
In other parts of the world, teosinte has proven its value as a tall and vigorously growing crop which can tolerate both moderate drought and temporary flooding. Different varieties of teosinte have adapted to high altitude, higher solar radiation and low rainfall during short growing seasons.
If you are looking for a cover that increases wildlife traffic, teosinte is the perfect cover. Birds, deer, rabbits, turkey, quail and doves like teosinte, so it can be used in conservation programs as a long-term wildlife food supply.
Researchers are also studying teosinte as a possibility for biofuel, so this is a crop that will be growing in interest. Interested in growing teosinte as a cover? Several cover crop seed companies offer teosinte as an option.