Short-stature corn touted as next big thing in agriculture

ORLANDO, Fla. — Bob Reiter doesn’t hesitate when asked if Bayer has any revolutionary products in its research and development pipeline.

“Short-stature corn, which I think fundamentally has the opportunity to really shift how we grow our corn crop,” the global head of research and development at Bayer Crop Science told reporters attending the Bayer AgVocacy Forum in Orlando.

“More importantly, I think it is going to reset the base in terms of the yield potential we can derive from our corn crop.”

Short-stature corn stands out among the more than 20 next-generation traits in Bayer’s development pipeline. It flies in the face of conventional breeding wisdom that bigger is better.

The crop has been field tested but not in enough environments to be able to draw any firm conclusions about yield yet. However, it looks extremely promising, said Reiter.

“We’re really, really super excited by the potential that short stature corn offers.

“The big opportunity is establishing it as a platform that we’re going to breed with and that’s where we’re really going to unlock the yield potential in this product.”

Pam de Rocquigny, general manager of the Manitoba Corn Growers Association, said the trait sounds exciting but growers in her province are looking for something else.

“Within Manitoba, if the variety is going to mature in time before our first killing frost is usually on the top of the list in terms of what they’re looking for,” she said.

That is one of the factors that has limited the crop to 400,000 acres in the province, along with the expensive, unique equipment required to grow it and store it.

Reiter said Bayer breeders took a lesson from Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, who brought high-yielding dwarf rice and wheat to impoverished farmers in developing countries like Mexico, India and Pakistan.

Bayer has created a plant with shorter and thicker stalks that is less prone to green snap and lodging, two problems facing corn growers every year.

“We have more harvestable yield overall,” he said.

The crop will also lead to different management techniques. Because it is shorter, ground-based equipment can move through the crop in the growing season, enabling more precise application of crop protection products.

There is another distinct advantage to growing short-stature corn.

“This sets up a new standard out of which we can breed higher densities for the corn crop because at the end of the day corn yield is coming primarily from packing more plants per acre,” said Reiter.

He was asked if the trait has potential to reduce nutrient and water requirements.

“There’s lots of good hints that there’s something exciting and interesting there but it’s a little premature to lay it out there,” he said.

De Rocquigny said residue management is a big issue in Manitoba and short-stature corn would have less residue.

She doesn’t think in-season application of crop protection chemicals with a high-clearance sprayer would be a big selling feature for her growers.

“We don’t have huge disease pressure in terms of diseases that are caused by something that we can use a fungicide to control,” said de Rocquigny.

Goss’s wilt is a problem but it is a bacterial disease that can’t be controlled with fungicide.

Better green snap and lodging resistance would be welcome traits, she said.

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