NORTH BEND, Neb. (AP) -- Candice Fuson sails between rows of 6-foot corn plants, not pausing to wipe the mix of sweat and morning dew that drenches her face, long-sleeved windbreaker and gloved hands.
The 15-year-old's clothing doesn't fit the morning heat, but the head-to-toe cover is a must for walking a half-mile gauntlet of sharp-edged leaves.
Only the trail of 2-foot-long stalks littered behind her suggest Fuson's business in a corn field at 8 a.m. As so many other Corn Belt teen-agers before her have done, Fuson is detasseling -- pulling the spindly tassels atop each corn plant to prevent improper pollination.
"My skin is sensitive to the corn. If I don't wear the gloves and a jacket, I'll get cut to shreds," said Fuson, a third-year detasseler who is considered a veteran.
All over the Corn Belt, the gritty work of detasseling is more than a summer job. It's a rite of passage for thousands of rural teens that dates back more than half a century.
"If you talk to anybody in town ... if you tell them you're detasseling, they always say, 'Oh, I remember when I detasseled as a kid,"' said 14-year-old Candice Ahl of Fremont, whose parents detasseled the same fields in eastern Nebraska. The need for detasseling originated in the 1940s, when farmers discovered the superior yields offered by hybrids.
Hybrids are created by growing two varieties of corn in the same field, planting rows of a female corn variety alongside a male variety used for pollination. Machines are used to remove most of the tassels of the female plant to keep it from pollinating itself.
The machines can't get everything, and that's where the teen-agers come in. Most detasselers range in age from 12 to 18. They pile into old school buses or vans and hit the fields by 6 a.m. The work always seems to take place during the hottest three to four weeks of summer.
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