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Michael Fields Agricultural Institute logo
At the intersection of food, soil, climate, farming and water.

Corn planting

Every year, every season, brings its challenges. The spring greeted us with rain – lots of it. In the months of April and May we had a combined precipitation total of over 7 inches. Our area hasn’t seen that amount of spring rain in quite some time. The timing of the rain was especially irksome, just when we could almost get in the field, it would rain again. We started seeing an increased amount of phone calls and emails from other farmers on these rainy days, looking to commiserate. Misery loves company!

Even though the rain did set us back (and we’re still playing catch-up), we would much prefer this weather to the “D” word – a word that strikes fear in the heart of any grower, which I will not even mention in polite company; it does, however, rhyme with sprout if you had any question about what word we’re alluding to.

Despite our setbacks, we accomplished our goals and all our corn research plots were planted. What are we researching you might ask? We have several breeding objectives. The nutritional value of our food has always been a concern for us; we have been selecting for higher nutritional value along with sound agronomic traits. Another issue of concern for us and most organic corn growers is GMO (genetically modified organism, also referred to as GE, genetically engineered) contamination. The base of this problem is the wind carries corn pollen from conventional growers into organic corn fields. When the organic grower brings their crop to the grain elevator, if the crop is contaminated with GMOs (not allowed in organic production) and it gets rejected, then the organic farmer may be forced to sell the corn at conventional prices. The demand for organic corn in the U.S. is significant and when organic corn is rejected, the demand does not simply disappear, but rather organic imports rise. When imports rise the effect can be devastating for U.S. grain producers. Here at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute along with our partners at Iowa State, we are breeding corn that rejects GMO pollen (and other types of pollen as well); this is something we call gametophytic incompatibility. We conducted a literature review, investigating food grade organic corn varieties (think polenta, corn meal, etc.), and determined that the market and consumer demand is increasing and predicted rising interest in niche food grade organic corn varieties (naturally gluten free) for chefs, distillers, and foodies alike. We planted a variety trial which we will evaluate for agronomic performance, heterotic combinability, and nutritional value. We intend on incorporating gametophytic incompatibility traits in high performing varieties. We also have a couple of different yield trials planted, measuring yield in hybrids. One of these trials is for the United States Testing Network (USTN), a group that we have been working with for several years.

With summer around the corner, we hope you stay in touch with us as we gear up for another busy growing season!