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Why Some of Your Future Corn Hybrids Will Be Shorter

Bayer Crop Science is researching short-stature hybrids that it says will reduce odds of greensnap and stalk lodging.

If you’re looking for revolution in corn production, short-stature corn may be it. 

“Every year, we collect more data on it, we get more excited,” says Bob Reiter, who heads research and development for Bayer Crop Science. He spoke at this week’s Bayer AgVocacy Forum ahead of the Commodity Classic in Orlando, Florida.

“I think, fundamentally, it has the opportunity to really shift how we grow our corn crop and, more importantly, reset the base in terms of yield potential for our corn crop," he says. Currently, Bayer is establishing it as a platform for which it will breed corn hybrids. 

Short-stature corn is what it is – hybrids that are several feet shorter than current hybrids. Harry Stine, founder of Stine Seeds, and Stine scientists have also worked the concept. That firm’s 6- to 8-foot-tall plants look different from today’s typical 9- to 11-foot-high hybrids. More upright leaves and smaller tassels enable plants to harvest more sunlight. 

Thicker and shorter corn stalks will significantly cut greensnap and lodging potential, says Reiter. 

“It sets up a new standard in which we breed for higher densities for a corn crop,” he adds “At the end of the day, more corn yield comes from packing more plants per acre.”

Bayer scientists currently are examining short-stature plant-per-acre populations in the in the upper 30,000s and low 40,000s. However, these are just preliminary levels that need more study, he adds.

“We don’t know what the limit will be,” says Reiter. “It’s no different than trying to adapt corn to narrower rows.” He adds it takes time and breeding selection as to what population level will be optimized.  

Where Short-Stature Corn Will Fit 

“Root systems are bigger and stronger,” he says. This may be advantageous in situations where crops are frequently stressed, such as in droughty soils. On the other extreme, corn on highly managed irrigated acres is vulnerable to diseases like stalk rot and greensnap. Thus, this may be a fit for short-stature corn, he says. 

“Then you could go somewhere down the middle, where corn (production) is always going to be better if it stands up and doesn’t fall down,” says Reiter. “I can see a fit for different value propositions to growers.”

Bayer scientists are also trying to determine if short-stature corn will use less nitrogen and less water and still produce yields comparable with current corn hybrids. Some anecdotal evidence exists to support the logic that it takes less energy to move water and nutrients upward in a short-stature corn plant. However, much more research is needed to confirm this and the degree to which it happens, Reiter says. 

Farmers won’t see short-stature corn on the market for several years. Reiter says Bayer needs to step up grower input and where to position it where growers can take full advantage of its benefits. Bayer is currently testing short-stature corn across the country. 

“One improvement we need is a better name,” quips Reiter. “We’ll leave that up to the marketing team.” 

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