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Iowa corn farmers invest in genome research

DANIEL LOOKER 09/23/2013 @ 5:35pm Business Editor

One of the first researchers in the world to sequence the corn genome in 2009, Patrick Schnable, is now Iowa State University's Iowa Corn Promotion Board Endowed Chair in Genetics.

The University and the Corn Board announced the $1.5 million investment that makes permanent a genetics position in the ISU agronomy department.

Humans have been improving corn for more than 9,000 years and the Corn Board has a slightly shorter, but productive history of supporting research. The Board owns several patents. In 2012, 18% of its $13.3 million in voluntary checkoff funds went to research.

Schnable's research could speed up development of new traits important to corn farmers.

"They are targeting several different areas of efficiency," Corn Board president Bob Bowman of DeWitt, Iowa, told Agriculture.com

Those include more efficient use of water and nitrogen, "which ties real well with the nutrient management direction we're heading," Bowman said.

Besides the endowment, the Corn Board is also investing $500,000 to support research in functional genomics with industry and several land grant universities, including Iowa State.

Bowman isn't certain if the Iowa effort is the first time a state corn checkoff has created an endowed professorship.

"There could be some out there but I would seriously doubt it," he said. "We're lucky. We're the largest checkoff."

The checkoff has grown in size since it was created in 1976, to a penny a bushel. Iowa growers approved that increase in 2012 with nearly 74% in favor. The checkoff is voluntary and growers can request refunds, although well over 90% do not, Bowman said.

The board looks for a return for corn farmers from its checkoff dollars.

"This is not spending the checkoff. This is investing the checkoff," he said. "We've got a lot of fiduciary responsibility to those farmers who check off."

Here is the Corn Board's most recent annual report.

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