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Short-Stature Corn on the Way From Bayer CropScience

Bayer aims to launch these hybrids early next decade.

Farmers who have waded and stumbled through corn decimated by green snap or stalk lodging may be in luck in a few years. Bayer CropScience is developing what it calls short-stature corn that company officials say will likely debut early next decade. Bayer officials discussed this development and others on a conference call this week with agricultural journalists. 

“Over the next two to three years, we will demonstrate them (short-stature hybrids) to growers and give them a feel and sense of how they will work on their farms,” says Bob Reiter, Bayer CropScience head of research and development. “I think this is a little like what was experienced with the Green Revolution in rice and wheat through Norman Borlaug, which is the foundational shift in how crops are produced and how growers will be able to unlock and enjoy additional productivity value.”

Short-stature corn is what it is – hybrids that are several feet shorter than normal 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. 

“As you shorten up the crop, it also makes the crop far less susceptible to key problems, such as stalk lodging and also green snap,” says Reiter. “Those problems can be significant. There have been whole fields that have snapped during the growing season.”

Meanwhile, stalk lodging problems can typically range between 5% and 30%. These losses can be reduced by shortening corn height, says Reiter. Shorter hybrid height also allows more access to equipment for spraying and fertility applications, such as for late-season N. 

Higher corn populations 

Short-stature hybrids also set the stage for thicker planting of corn. Reiter points out the main reason corn yields have increased over time is the ability of hybrids to withstand thicker densities.

In Stine Seeds’ case, the Adel, Iowa, firm has researched planting corn in stratospheric corn populations in increments from 45,000 to 60,000 plants per acre – roughly a 25% to 50% hike above current populations – and in a more equidistant manner in a system called twin-row 20-inch spacings. Just by themselves, Stine tests show the more equidistant spacing raises yields an average 3% to 9%.

Matching the right high-population hybrid with the right field could pick up another 5% to 12% in yields.

Meanwhile, proper fertility, including regularly scheduled N applications, can boost yields another 10% to 20%.

Other developments Bayer officials discussed included: 

Carbon neutrality. You won’t find climate change deniers in Bayer’s executive suite. 

“The planet at the end of the day is getting warmer, it’s getting dustier, it’s getting hotter,” says Liam Condon, Bayer CropScience CEO. “This, of course, has a negative impact on the harvestability. About 15 to 20% of harvest (worldwide) could be lost going forward.”

Climate change concerns have spurred Bayer to aim for a carbon-neutral farming strategy. Condon says Bayer has been working with a team of outside experts to develop standards on measuring carbon sequestration and assessing the carbon footprint of various farming practices. Examples of farming practices that can reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint are minimum-till, no-till, and cover crops. 

Biologicals. Both Bayer and the former Monsanto had their biological discovery programs prior to the acquisitions. “We are still learning how much potential there is in biologicals,” says Reiter. “They will not supplant traditional chemistries across a broad array of crops.”

However, they will supplement chemistries in many cases, such as when pests surface close to harvest. “It might not have the same level of control (as a chemical-based product), but it will give sufficient control closer to harvest wanted by growers and from the customer perspective,” says Reiter. 

Glyphosate lawsuits and off-target dicamba controversy. “It was clear to us at the beginning when we started deeper discussions with Monsanto in 2016 what the portfolio was,” says Condon. “We also looked extensively at what any legal risks were as a part of normal due diligence. There are no regrets. We feel very confident with our legal position on glyphosate going forward. (Regarding dicamba), we are very happy to see EPA reregistration, and at the state level, we are almost done in getting things through.

“What we keep getting back from farmers again and again and again, particularly in the Americas, is that they need these herbicides,” says Condon. “They need glyphosate, they need dicamba. From a regulatory point of view, we know the products are safe when used according to the label.” 

Integration of Monsanto. Bayer’s purchase of Monsanto was finalized last August. Since then, integration has been occurring at a steady clip, says Condon. 

“Both companies were international companies based all over the world, and there are certain cultures that play out in headquarters,” says Condon. Still, meetings frequently occur when it’s difficult to tell who legacy Bayer vs. legacy Monsanto people are, he says. 

“In local markets, these nuances don’t play out among customers,” he says. 

Seed Advisor is a new varietal selection tool launched By The Climate Corporation last year.  Seed Advisor uses an algorithm that takes the farmer’s data and uses it to help him or her select seed on that basis. “The algorithm will help farmers make much smarter variety decisions on a specific field at a significant yield advantage over a decision they make by themselves without the help of an algorithm,” says Condon.

Officials for The Climate Corporation say farmers testing the tool in 2018 boosted yields by an average of 9.1 bushels per acre across 100,000 U.S. corn acres in Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota.

The next generation of dicamba-based soybean weed control. Next on tap is Bayer’s XtendFlex program, which adds glufosinate (Liberty) tolerance to tolerances to glyphosate and dicamba in the current Xtend offerings.

A new-generation rootworm control product. Bayer Crop Science plans to launch its SmartStax Pro early next decade that will include a third mode of action using this technology in addition to the two now present (Cry3Bb1 and Cry34Ab1/Cry35Ab1) in SmartStax.

The MON87411 event – termed CRW III – has a gene inserted into the corn cell that tells the corn plant to make a specific double-stranded RNA (dsRNA). When rootworm larvae ingest the protein, it stops a specific RNA in the corn rootworm cells from making a specific protein the rootworm larvae need to survive. SmartStax Pro will be sold as a triple pyramid, with the Cry3Bb protein, the Cry34Ab1/Cry35Ab1 Bt protein, and the RNAi trait that Bayer has developed. Corteva Agriscience officials say it will offer the trait in combination with its insect control and herbicide-tolerant traits. 

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