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Biotechnology is a critical tool used by U.S. corn farmers to produce a safe, high-yielding, quality crop in varying growing conditions while reducing the use of pesticides and fertilizers. Still, the genetic quality, diversity and specificity in a bag of corn seed begins with a conventional breeding program that develops germplasm that is specific for the soil and environment where it is intended to grow.
According to National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), conventional breeding is still part of corn improvement efforts with advancements in biotechnology applied in tandem to provide an exceptional advantage for crop yields.
“A bag of corn seed today is highly specific in regards to potential yield for a given region, and more efficient than it was just 10 or 15 years ago,” said Nathan Fields, director of biotechnology and economic analysis at NCGA.
“As biotechnology evolves, U.S. farmers will continue incorporating it on their farms to enhance sustainability and lower production costs. The resulting crops are wholesome and safe for domestic and international markets.”
Today, farmers have the option of selecting a corn variety that combines the benefits of hybrid genetics with biotech traits that provide crop protection to safeguard plants from insects. This protection carries over into grain quality by reducing a main path – insect damage – by which aflatoxins and mycotoxins enter the grain during storage.
Herbicide protection traits are also available for farmers to combat weed pressure, which results in cleaner fields and a crop with less foreign material when harvested. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports show that seeds with these traits allow farmers to apply herbicide once rather than multiple times.
“Research is ongoing in this area to provide a wide range of protection against multiple weeds and the herbicides necessary to combat them,” Fields said.
Another way for farmers to help seeds perform optimally in local growing conditions is by using seed treatments. These treatments are a coating sprayed onto the seed prior to planting. They allow for specific placement of nutrients and insecticides to protect corn seedlings so germination can occur.
“These treatments allow for corn to be planted in sub-optimal weather conditions, yet protect the seed from becoming too cold or too wet so germination can occur when conditions become optimal,” Fields said.
Through use of seed treatments, farmers can have more flexibility with their planting timeframe. The treatments are usually purchased by U.S. farmers based upon the environment of the growing region.
The next generation of corn technology incorporates soil health, environment and nutrient uptake. One type is growth regulators, which are organic compounds other than nutrients that modify the plant’s growth rate from germination through harvest. Another form is soil innoculants containing microorganisims such as bacteria or fungi that promote plant growth by increasing the supply or availabiltiy of nutrients. Understanding of this technology is increasing and validation is improving.
“We are at the point where investment and energy toward these biologics and systems to enhance plant health are moving forward,” Fields said.