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Corn, is a large grain plant first domesticated by indigenous peoples in Mexico about 10,000 years ago. The six major types of corn are dent corn, flint corn, pod corn, popcorn, flour corn, and sweet corn.
The leafy stalk of the plant produces separate pollen and ovuliferous inflorescences or ears, which are fruits, yielding kernels or seeds. Maize kernels are often used in cooking as a starch.
Corn flowers may sometimes exhibit mutations that lead to the formation of female flowers in the tassel. These mutations, ts4 and Ts6, prohibit the development of the stamen while simultaneously promoting pistil development.
Maize (/meɪz/ MAYZ; Zea mays subsp. mays, from Spanish: maíz after Taino: mahiz), also known as corn (North American and Australian English), is a cereal grain first domesticated by indigenous peoples in southern Mexico about 10,000 years ago. The leafy stalk of the plant produces pollen inflorescences and separate ovuliferous inflorescences called ears that yield kernels or seeds, which are fruits.
Maize has become a staple food in many parts of the world, with the total production of maize surpassing that of wheat or rice. In addition to being consumed directly by humans (often in the form of masa), maize is also used for corn ethanol, animal feed and other maize products, such as corn starch and corn syrup. The six major types of maize are dent corn, flint corn, pod corn, popcorn, flour corn, and sweet corn. Sugar-rich varieties called sweet corn are usually grown for human consumption as kernels, while field corn varieties are used for animal feed, various corn-based human food uses (including grinding into cornmeal or masa, pressing into corn oil, and fermentation and distillation into alcoholic beverages like bourbon whiskey), and as chemical feedstocks. Maize is also used in making ethanol and other biofuels.
Maize is widely cultivated throughout the world, and a greater weight of maize is produced each year than any other grain. In 2014, total world production was 1.04 billion tonnes. Maize is the most widely grown grain crop throughout the Americas, with 361 million metric tons grown in the United States alone in 2014. Genetically modified maize made up 85% of the maize planted in the United States in 2009. Subsidies in the United States help to account for the high level of cultivation of maize in the United States and the fact that the U.S. is the world's largest maize producer.
Because it is cold-intolerant, in the temperate zones maize must be planted in the spring. Its root system is generally shallow, so the plant is dependent on soil moisture. As a plant that uses C4 carbon fixation, maize is a considerably more water-efficient crop than plants that use C3 carbon fixation such as alfalfa and soybeans. Maize is most sensitive to drought at the time of silk emergence, when the flowers are ready for pollination. In the United States, a good harvest was traditionally predicted if the maize was "knee-high by the Fourth of July", although modern hybrids generally exceed this growth rate. Maize used for silage is harvested while the plant is green and the fruit immature. Sweet corn is harvested in the "milk stage", after pollination but before starch has formed, between late summer and early to mid-autumn. Field maize is left in the field until very late in the autumn to thoroughly dry the grain, and may, in fact, sometimes not be harvested until winter or even early spring. The importance of sufficient soil moisture is shown in many parts of Africa, where periodic drought regularly causes maize crop failure and consequent famine. Although it is grown mainly in wet, hot climates, it has been said to thrive in cold, hot, dry or wet conditions, meaning that it is an extremely versatile crop.
Maize was planted by the Native Americans in hills, in a complex system known to some as the Three Sisters. Maize provided support for beans, and the beans provided nitrogen derived from nitrogen-fixing rhizobia bacteria which live on the roots of beans and other legumes; and squashes provided ground cover to stop weeds and inhibit evaporation by providing shade over the soil. This method was replaced by single species hill planting where each hill 60–120 cm (2 ft 0 in–3 ft 11 in) apart was planted with three or four seeds, a method still used by home gardeners. A later technique was "checked maize", where hills were placed 1 m (40 in) apart in each direction, allowing cultivators to run through the field in two directions. In more arid lands, this was altered and seeds were planted in the bottom of 10–12 cm (4–4 1⁄2 in) deep furrows to collect water. Modern technique plants maize in rows which allows for cultivation while the plant is young, although the hill technique is still used in the maize fields of some Native American reservations. When maize is planted in rows, it also allows for planting of other crops between these rows to make more efficient use of land space.
In most regions today, maize grown in residential gardens is still often planted manually with a hoe, whereas maize grown commercially is no longer planted manually but rather is planted with a planter. In North America, fields are often planted in a two-crop rotation with a nitrogen-fixing crop, often alfalfa in cooler climates and soybeans in regions with longer summers. Sometimes a third crop, winter wheat, is added to the rotation.
Many of the maize varieties grown in the United States and Canada are hybrids. Often the varieties have been genetically modified to tolerate glyphosate or to provide protection against natural pests. Glyphosate is an herbicide which kills all plants except those with genetic tolerance. This genetic tolerance is very rarely found in nature.
In the midwestern United States, low-till or no-till farming techniques are usually used. In low-till, fields are covered once, maybe twice, with a tillage implement either ahead of crop planting or after the previous harvest. The fields are planted and fertilized. Weeds are controlled through the use of herbicides, and no cultivation tillage is done during the growing season. This technique reduces moisture evaporation from the soil, and thus provides more moisture for the crop. The technologies mentioned in the previous paragraph enable low-till and no-till farming. Weeds compete with the crop for moisture and nutrients, making them undesirable.
Before the 20th century, all maize harvesting was by manual labour, by grazing, or by some combination of those. Whether the ears were hand-picked and the stover was grazed, or the whole plant was cut, gathered, and shocked, people and livestock did all the work. Between the 1890s and the 1970s, the technology of maize harvesting expanded greatly. Today, all such technologies, from entirely manual harvesting to entirely mechanized, are still in use to some degree, as appropriate to each farm's needs, although the thoroughly mechanized versions predominate, as they offer the lowest unit costs when scaled to large farm operations. For small farms, their unit cost can be too high, as their higher fixed cost cannot be amortized over as many units.
Before World War II, most maize in North America was harvested by hand. This involved a large number of workers and associated social events (husking or shucking bees). From the 1890s onward, some machinery became available to partially mechanize the processes, such as one- and two-row mechanical pickers (picking the ear, leaving the stover) and corn binders, which are reaper-binders designed specifically for maize (for example, Video on YouTube). The latter produce sheaves that can be shocked. By hand or mechanical picker, the entire ear is harvested, which then requires a separate operation of a maize sheller to remove the kernels from the ear. Whole ears of maize were often stored in corn cribs, and these whole ears are a sufficient form for some livestock feeding use. Today corn cribs with whole ears, and corn binders, are less common because most modern farms harvest the grain from the field with a combine and store it in bins. The combine with a corn head (with points and snap rolls instead of a reel) does not cut the stalk; it simply pulls the stalk down. The stalk continues downward and is crumpled into a mangled pile on the ground, where it usually is left to become organic matter for the soil. The ear of maize is too large to pass between slots in a plate as the snap rolls pull the stalk away, leaving only the ear and husk to enter the machinery. The combine separates the husk and the cob, keeping only the kernels.
When maize is a silage crop, the entire plant is usually chopped at once with a forage harvester (chopper) and ensiled in silos or polymer wrappers. Ensiling of sheaves cut by a corn binder was formerly common in some regions but has become uncommon.
For storing grain in bins, the moisture of the grain must be sufficiently low to avoid spoiling. If the moisture content of the harvested grain is too high, grain dryers are used to reduce the moisture content by blowing heated air through the grain. This can require large amounts of energy in the form of combustible gases (propane or natural gas) and electricity to power the blowers.
Maize is widely cultivated throughout the world, and a greater weight of maize is produced each year than any other grain. In 2018, total world production was 1.15 billion tonnes, led by the United States with 34.2% of the total (table). China produced 22.4% of the global total.
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