Farmer management of plant germplasm pre-dates crop domestication, but humans’ role in crop evolution and diversity remains largely undocumented and often contested. Seemingly inexplicable practices observed throughout agricultural history, such as exchanging or replacing seed, continue to structure crop populations across the developing world. Seed management practices can be construed as events in the life history of crops and management data used to model crop demography, but this requires suitable quantitative data. As a prerequisite to addressing the causes and implications of maize seed management, we describe its patterns of variation across Mexico by drawing from the literature and new analysis. We find that rates of seed replacement, introduction and diffusion differ significantly across regions and altitudinal zones, but interactions among explanatory factors can obscure patterns of variation. The type, source, geographic origin and ownership of seed help explain observed rates. Yet, controlling for the characteristics of germplasm barely reduces interregional differences vastly exceeding variation across elevations. With few exceptions, monotonic altitudinal trends are absent. Causal relationships between management practices and the physical environment could determine farmers’ wellbeing and crop conservation in the face of climate change. Scarce and inconsistent data on management nevertheless could prevent an understanding of these relationships. Current conceptions on the management and dynamics of maize diversity are founded on a patchwork of observations in surprisingly few and dissimilar environments. Our estimates of management practices should shed light on differences in maize population dynamics across Mexico. Consistency with previous studies spanning over a decade suggests that common sets of forces are present within large areas, but causal associations remain unknown. The next step in explaining crop diversity should address variation in seed management across space and time simultaneously while identifying farmers’ values and motivations as underlying forces.