On-demand pollination

Commercial corn seed production requires very precise plantings of males and females. If the weather conditions aren’t just right, pollination can be affected which impacts a seed company’s products. An Iowa-based start-up company called PowerPollen has developed breakthrough technology to collect pollen, preserve it, and pollinate corn on-demand at exactly the right time.

Jason Cope is the company’s chief intellectual property officer. He says they built a machine that goes through a field and collects pollen as the corn plant is actively shedding it.

"As we move through the field, we accumulate mass amounts. We bring that into a portable laboratory where we preserve that pollen in a very scalable manner," says Cope. "That pollen sits in preservation in a state with high viability with storage that allows us to pull it out when the female plants are ready and go out and make those pollinations."

It doesn’t take much. Cope says one Dixie cup of pollen would pollinate an entire acre of corn. When the time is right, they return the pollen to the field.

"What we do is we take the pollen out of our preservation, and we mount it onto machines that we’ve built that just slowly meter the pollen," he says. "And, we essentially make a cloud similar to how pollen would shed from tassels in nature and we completely pollinate that female with that cloud of pollen."

He says there is a lot of future potential with this technology such as delivering specific traits not only for corn, but for wheat, rice, and other grass crops.