Variety is the Spice of Life for Corn,
April 23, 1998
Scientific matchmaking in cornfields on more than 40 Minnesota
farms indicates farmers should consider moving away from the traditional
approach of growing only one or two hybrids in large blocks, with little cross
pollination between them.
Research tests last year found small but significant yield
increases from allowing different hybrid pairs to cross-pollinate.
The tests, continuing this year, were run by
Agricultural Research Service
scientists in collaboration with farmers, seed companies and a crop consulting
firm. When hybrids from different companies were paired, they yielded an
average four bushels more corn per acre. The highest-yielding pairs produced
kernels up to 3 percent larger with up to 0.4 percent more protein.
The yield advantage of pairing hybrids from different companies
implies that each hybrid in the pair had different parents.
Inbreeding--pollination between plants of the same or very similar genetics--is
known to weaken crop vigor.
To implement the new approach, farmers need only plant two
unrelated hybrids in alternating rows or mix them in the seed hopper.
here for a November 1997 Agricultural Research magazine
feature that gives more background about the corn-hybrid studies, as well as
other research at the Morris, Minn., lab.
ARS plant physiologist Mark E. Westgate at Morris, Minn., is
leading the tests. He's collaborating with several seed companies and CENTROL
Crop Consultants, Inc., of Morris. The ARS scientists are growing about 80 corn
hybrids this year to determine which pairs synchronize their pollen-shedding
and silk emergence--and thus could be fruitful matches.
If the results hold, CENTROL will recommend paired hybrids to its
network of consultants and farmers in time for the 1999 season. Eventually,
breeders might add a new criterion for selecting a hybrid: How well does it
cross-pollinate with other hybrids?
Scientific contact: Mark E. Westgate, ARS North Central
Soil Conservation Research Laboratory, Morris, Minn., phone (320) 589-3411,
Ext. 132, Fax (320) 589-3787,