As corn is called on to serve as a food, feed and energy source, the National Corn Growers Association is calling on the federal government to increase research funding for corn.

"We believe that corn is the feedstock for the world, that corn is a model plant, the most valuable economic plant grown in the US," said Pam Johnson, NCGA's research and business development action team chairwoman. "We believe that the future of corn is written in the genetic code and that research is crucial to the future of corn and its inherent possibilities for opportunity."

Johnson is in Washington, D.C., this week to discuss funding for basic research with leaders from Congress and the USDA. One proposal is for the formation of a National Institute for Food and Agriculture. Modeled after the National Institutes for Health and National Science Foundation, NIFA would direct federal funding for basic plant research. NCGA supports new allocation of basic research dollars, such as NIFA or similar programs

Last week Johnson and Director of Research and Business Development Nathan Fields attended the 15th annual International Conference on the Status of Plant and Animal Genome Research in San Diego, Calif. She said the projects NCGA supported a decade ago are now paying off.

"When NCGA created the National Genome Initiative in 1998, it established a program and funding to begin sequencing the corn genome," Johnson explained. "That has already led to the kind of data corn growers need to access new technologies including drought-tolerant and nitrogen-efficient corn."

The maize genome mapping sequence is about one-third complete. NCGA hopes the program will identify the genes and biological mechanisms in the corn plant that affect such traits as: environmental impact, including fertilizer use; drought tolerance; suitability for ethanol and other coproducts; nutritional quality; and insect and disease tolerance.

Advocating for funding in the current budget climate will be tough, Johnson said she realizes. "Whatever funding is available, we want to make sure that basic research stays focused on key agricultural crops," she says. "Research is a key priority and with many new faces on Capitol Hill, I believe it is vital to show how research and development will result in future opportunities and new uses for our product."

SOURCE: NCGA news release.