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Shorter may be smarter in corn production

 Bayer showcases breakthrough innovations in agriculture, including Short Stature Corn and CoverCress™, at the company’s Jerseyville, IL site as part of its Fields of Opportunity Technology Showcase

Bayer has developed an innova­tive technology known as the Smart Corn System, which is designed to increase corn yields and maximize profits for farmers. At the heart of this system are short-stature corn hybrids, which grow to 5 to 7 feet versus 9 to 12 feet in traditional hybrids. The shorter height offers increased standability while allowing for season-long access with standard ground rigs.

Currently being tested on about 30,000 acres in 2023, this revolu­tionary system has a target full-scale launch date of 2024.

Making plants shorter for in­creased production is not a new concept in production agriculture. Cereals such as wheat and rice were shortened during the Green Revo­lution from the 1960s to mid-1980s to achieve higher yields and help alleviate poverty and malnutrition around the world.

Bayer is not the only company working on developing short corn. Syngenta, Corteva and Stine are also working on short-stature hybrids. Stine introduced a shorter hybrid about a decade ago as a result of its breeding program.

Bayer’s short corn system uses a combination of genetic modifica­tions and improved digital processes to produce plants that are shorter in height but still produce high yields. The system optimizes corn plants’ growth and development by selecting key genetic traits as well as altering their hormone balance, inhibiting the production of gibber­ellin that causes cell elongation. This process redirects the plant’s energy from vegetative growth toward the production of kernels.

ShannonMCEven though plant height is short­er, ear size and height are expected to be the same as that of traditional corn, with placement estimated to be at least 2 feet off the ground. Plants will still have the same num­ber of leaves as traditional corn but with a shorter distance between each node, contributing to the smaller stature.

There are several key benefits of this new technology that make the idea of short corn enticing. One of the most obvious benefits is increased tolerance to green snap and lodging. Bayer research has shown that its upcoming short corn lines can tolerate wind speeds up to 50 miles per hour. Much like the industry saw with shorter cereals, an increase in standability should allow for seeds to be planted in higher densities. Increased population should have a direct correlation to yield when the system is used to its fullest capabilities.

With plant height expected to only reach 5 to 7 feet, there is an opportunity to use existing standard ground equipment in a way that hasn’t been previously possible. This opens the door for better nutrient management and more timely and efficient plant health applications, such as using fungicides later in the season. These new hybrids should help alleviate the stress that comes with the logistics of trying to get corn side-dressed before it gets too tall for standard ground equipment.

Once the new technology is launched full scale in 2024, there will be a little bit of a learning curve to maximize the system’s potential. The short-stature hybrids are expect­ed to bring increased water usage efficiency as well as improved fertili­ty management. The ability to make later in-season applications should have a significant impact, especially with nitrogen use efficiency.

The short corn system is an ex­citing advancement in the agricul­ture industry, with the potential to increase yields, maximize profits and provide numerous benefits to farmers. In the big picture, its suc­cess could have a significant impact on global food production. At MFA, we’re eager to see the potential in the field, and I’m sure many of our growers are keeping a close watch on this development, too.

Cutline for top aireal image: Bayer showcases breakthrough innovations in agriculture, including Short Stature Corn and CoverCress™, at the company’s Jerseyville, IL site as part of its Fields of Opportunity Technology Showcase. Photo by Bayer.

READ MORE from the June/July 2023 Today’s Farmer’s Magazine, the MFA Incorporated member magazine.

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