AFRI in ACTION: Resilient Corn Through Better Breeding

Resilient Corn Through Better Breeding1Corn (maize) is the single largest crop in U.S. agriculture. More corn is produced and sold than any other commodity. Surprisingly, the bulk of the crop comes from only a handful of varieties bred specifically to flourish in the Midwest.

With weather and growing conditions becoming less predictable, the lack of crop diversity leaves corn fields vulnerable to heat and water stress as well as pests and pathogens. A consortium of researchers with an AFRI grant are exploring how the rich diversity of tropical varieties can benefit North American farms.

This it is not a simple process since you cannot just plant a tropical maize seed in Iowa and expect it to thrive. The tropical varieties must acclimate to the weather, length of the day and growing season. The researchers are looking at different varieties of tropical maize to determine which genes control these adaptation traits. In breeding new varieties, the traits can then be excluded or adjusted to better handle the North American climate.

The researchers are using the same selective breeding processes that farmers have used for centuries. Since they don’t have hundreds of years to experiment, they are using advanced techniques to shorten the plant breeding cycles. Hardier varieties of corn with a broader gene pool are needed now to keep farming profitable so that the U.S. can continue to serve as a breadbasket to the world.