Whatley's Prolific Corn
Corn has been an important crop for centuries. Farmers understand that more bushels of corn harvested per acre means more profit for them. This is a time of genetic varieties resulting from manipulation of the corn’s genetic code. In the early 1900’s Helena residents Tom Whatley and his three sons developed a variety of corn with large multiple ears per stalk and a high bushel yield per acre.
Whatley prolific corn was produced by the cross pollination of a big ear corn with low yield per stalk with a Hayes Prolific corn that produced several ears per stalk. Like many Southern farmers, Tom Whatley had to plant either a large, one ear per stalk corn, or use a prolific, but small eared variety, of corn. He discovered that red-cobbed corn is harder, more weevil resistant, and more saleable than white cobbed varieties. The white cob varieties were subject to insect and disease damage, and produced a smaller, less developed ear. On a nearby farm, he located an extremely prolific red cobbed corn with small ears. It took many years of cross-breeding his large eared corn with this small eared red cobbed corn, but the Whatley’s Prolific Corn was created. George Best stated that his relative, Tom Guy Whatley, told him that they would use bags to prevent a natural pollination of the corn, then collected the pollen from a selected corn variety, and pollinated the corn by hand. In so doing, they controlled the corn ear characteristics produced.
This new variety of corn was tried on individual family farms and experimental stations, and proved to outclass all other varieties. This corn not only proved to be the best for Georgia and Alabama, but was grown with great success in all southern states. According to a 1930 corn variety test report from the Coastal Plain Experiment Station in Tifton, GA, Whatley’s Prolific Corn yielded more per acre than its 26 competitors. Whatley’s Prolific yielded 48.8 bushels per acre, while its closest competitor was Good’s Golden Prolific at 42.4 bushels.
Tom Whatley died in 1919 at the age of 64. He lived to see his corn seed shipped to most of Georgia, and all over the United States, especially the states of Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina. His son, Tom Guy Whatley, stated in an interview that the corn was shipped internationally to Russia, Central America, South America, and Barbados in the Lesser Antilles.
The corn is grown locally by Telfair County resident, Guy Bland. Mr. Bland stated that the seed is no longer available, and any seed for planting must be gathered from existing fields and stored for the next planting season. The original seed for his crops came from another Telfair farmer. He also stated that some of his corn had red cobbs and some had white cobbs. The original hybrid parents of Whatley’s Prolific corn were a white cobbed corn and a red cobbed corn, so by the laws of hybridization from high school genetics, the future generations will contain a mixture of parent and hybrid stocks. Mr. Bland hopes that a future farmer will maintain the seed bank of Whatley’s Prolific Corn for future generations.