High-Quality Corn for Low-Input Farming Systems
July 11, 2007
To help family farmers and seed
producers better meet market demands and remain independent and profitable, a
new initiative is under way. Spearheaded by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant geneticist
Pollak, its being called the Breeding High-Quality Corn for
Sustainable, Low-Input Farming Systemsor HQ-LIFSproject.
Pollak and other scientists in the
Corn Insects and Crop Genetics Research Unit, Ames, Iowa, are collaborating
on HQ-LIFS with Iowa State University
scientists at Ames and the Michael Fields Agricultural
Institute in East Troy, Wis. The Practical Farmers of Iowa help with
The goal of HQ-LIFS is to boost corn's nutritional content while making it
more compatible with sustainable farming systems. The researchers mainly focus
on breeding new plants that will provide smaller scale producers with corn, or
maize, containing specific traits expected to soon be in high demandsuch
as for better organic feed grains and specialty uses. Corn varieties for feed
and specialty markets that can be grown using small amounts of fertilizer are
In breeding experiments, scientists are selecting for responses to two
factors: slowly available forms of nitrogen, and weed pressure. Because some
states regulate the use of nitrogen fertilizers and the cost of fertilizer is
escalating, all growers could benefit from corn varieties that yield well with
slowly available nitrogen sources, such as organic manures, or with lower
amounts of applied fertilizer.
New varieties from the three-year-old HQ-LIFS program can also contribute
traits required for reliable production under alternative farming systems, such
as organic farming. The Ames group is breeding specialty varietieslike
white corn and high- methionine corn for organic poultry producersthat
will provide new market possibilities.
Pollak envisions forming groups of farmers, seed companies and processors to
grow, test and evaluate varieties resulting from the program.
more about the research in the July 2007 issue of Agricultural
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.