Three key seed industry representatives met with Congressional delegates March 27-28 in Washington, D.C., to discuss the importance of the Germplasm Enhancement of Maize (GEM) program and demonstrate that more funds are needed to meet increasing demands.

GEM is designed to widen the germplasm base of commercial hybrid corn in the United States through the introduction and incorporation of novel and useful germplasm gathered from around the globe. It is a cooperative effort of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, land-grant universities, private industry, and international and non-governmental organizations.

Tom Hoegmeyer of Hoegmeyer Hybrids, Major Goodman of North Carolina State University and Terry Molnar of Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont Company, spent two days meeting with members of the Subcommittee on Agricultural Appropriations, U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.

Together, they stressed that current funding levels for the GEM program are inadequate to provide needed capacity for the regeneration, maintenance and distribution of the corn genetic resources.

In the U.S. alone, more than 92 million acres of corn were planted in 2011 with a raw material value of about $76 billion per year. These corn acres are primarily based on two genetic races of maize; there are more than 250 races identified globally.

"The lack of diversity within our corn production acreage makes U.S. farmers and the surrounding agricultural community vulnerable to changing environmental pressures and market needs," said Goodman who manages the North Carolina State University Corn Breeding and Genetics Lab. "A narrow genetic base is associated with higher risk, increasing the potential for new diseases or insect species to become widespread in corn growing areas.

"There's also risk associated with abiotic stresses such as drought, flooding, heat or soil salinity extremes."

He said resistance to these risks can be found in genetically diverse exotic germplasm sources.

"These exotic sources would not only help protect crops and farmers pocketbooks, but reduce the need for pesticide use associated with combatting insect, disease and weed pressures," Goodman said.

Breeders need access to sources of diverse germplasm to ensure the continued success of U.S. corn farmers and their ability to adapt to a variety of pressures. The GEM program provides this access and maintains the germplasm.

The additional funding requested of the 112th Congress of the United States would support research project needs and better support genomic exploration of allelic diversity and adaptation at the Raleigh, NC, and Ames, Iowa, facilities.