In New Century, New Corn Could Cut Phosphorus PollutionBy Jim De
February 20, 1998
The water-quality threat from phosphorus in chicken and pig manure
could be greatly reduced by a new type of feed corn that is low in phytic acid.
Seed of the new corn could be available to farmers as soon as the year 2000.
The first license for using the technology was awarded this month
by USDA's Agricultural Research Service,
which developed and patented the new low-phytic-acid corn. Phytic acid,
plentiful in regular corn, stores phosphorus in a form unusable by animals with
one stomach, including poultry, pigs and fish. Instead, much phosphorus winds
up in the animals' manure. Rain can carry the phosphorus to waterways,
nourishing algae that consume the water's oxygen and choke out other aquatic
Phosphorus loss to manure is 25 to 40 percent less with the low-
phytic acid corn discovered by ARS geneticist Victor Raboy in Aberdeen, Idaho.
Research could lead to larger reductions in phosphorus loss to manure.
To enable wide use of the discovery, ARS is negotiating licenses
with small and large companies that produce hybrid corn seed. The first license
was signed two weeks ago with Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Johnston, Iowa.
Pioneer and other companies are breeding the trait into elite corn plants.
Commercial hybrids may be released next year, but only if the plants exhibit
critical traits including desirable yield, nutritional qualities and pest and
Excess phosphorus pollutes many bodies of water such as the
Chesapeake Bay. In some Bay tributaries, phosphorus is suspected-- though not
proven--as one culprit in fish-killing bacterial blooms.