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At the intersection of food, soil, climate, farming and water.

A Focus on Combining Nutritional Value and Yield

The corn we are breeding has enhanced taste, protein quality and vitamin content.  This may increase feed efficiency and animal health.  The carotenoids found in corn not only are natural antioxidants and precursors of Vitamin A, they also are essential for preventing eye disease (macular degeneration). They turn the egg yolk yellow-orange and they are especially important for feeding layers.  Eggs provide the most bio-available form of carotenoids for people, and the amounts found in yolks are proportional to the amount found in the corn that feeds them.  High carotenoid corn should result in meat and egg products that are healthier for both American and foreign consumers.

A major drawback of corn is its low content of protein with low biological value for monogastric nutrition. Corn protein is deficient in lysine, methionine, and tryptophan. When feed is deficient in these amino acids, the protein is not utilized efficiently and the N is excreted as waste. High methionine and lysine corn bred by the MFAI program replaced the need for synthetic methionine in poultry feeding trials carried out by Organic Valley (in 2006) and the University of Minnesota (in 2008). Organic producers especially need to replace the use of synthetic methionine in poultry feed after 2010, and to reduce protein supplements including expensive organic soybean meal.

High methionine corn is especially important for the organic egg and broiler market. Methionine affects the overall health, egg laying ability, and feather production of chickens and it is hard to get enough of it in feed.  Organic farmers will soon not be allowed to use synthetic methionine in their rations.  Therefore they are very concerned about seeking natural alternatives.  We have done a lot of research on breeding high methionine corn and are focusing on genetic systems that convey the greatest stability and highest quality.  We are working with the organic poultry industry to develop high methionine corn that is cost effective and reliable.

A set of high protein, high-methionine, hard endosperm hybrids (HM) developed by MFAI under organic conditions were tested in 2009 within US Testing Network and USDA-ARS sites. Relative to normal hybrids HM hybrids in the USTN trials averaged higher yields on organic sites (87%) than on conventional sites (81%) and produced one-third more protein per acre where quality was measured on one organic site.

The USTN results also demonstrate the value of breeding in an organic system to develop varieties specific for organic farmers’ needs as the highest-yielding hybrids under the organic system were not the same as under the conventional system.

Our corn should eventually enhance export markets with foreign buyers who are looking for non-GMO corn with high nutritional value that is produced with sustainable practices.  The value of corn to farmers should increase as the feeding value of our corn becomes recognized.