Short Stature, High Expectations

Future corn varieties might be shorter, more uniform and higher yielding. ( Brittany Bowman, Lindsey Benne )

Tiny is a trend. Tiny houses, smaller gadgets and minimalist styles. One area you might not have considered? Corn. Bayer says the future will be shorter corn, produced at higher volumes on the same acres it’s planted today.

In 1940, weed control was primarily manual and planting wasn’t precise — resulting in varied heights and plant spacing, says Bob Reiter, head of research and development for Bayer Crop Science. Today, better weed control options, enhanced genetics and improved machinery result in higher-yielding, more uniform crops.

Short Height, Big Promise

Short-stature corn, which reaches a maximum of 7' in height, remains shorter than conventional corn throughout the growing season, Reiter says. Although it is currently being marketed for 30" rows, it could eventually transition to 20" rows.

As it looks to the future, Bayer isn’t the only company seeing the benefits of shorter corn. Stine Seed has shortened the height of their high-population corn hybrids, with research starting in the 1970s.

“We don’t grow anything because it’s specifically tall or short — we keep what yields best in our breeding programs,” explains David Thompson, Stine national marketing and sales director. “We’re finding shorter genetics lend themselves to our high-population corn model.”

As Stine looks to the future, short corn and high populations will continue to be the company’s focus, meaning farmers should expect to see more short corn from more companies. Both Stine and Bayer license genetic material to other seed companies — so not only will they offer shorter corn hybrids, their licensees will, too.

Agronomic Advantages

Short-stature corn features less space between internodes to keep corn lower to the ground, Reiter says. This reduces wind resistance among leaves and shifts the plant’s weight down toward its base to reduce risk of root and stock lodging. This shorter corn also has a thicker stalk for an extra measure of protection against green snap.

This short structure stands in contrast to regular corn hybrids that typically have more wind damage.

“It’s probably a little bit like sailing,” Reiter says. “When the leaves [of regular height hybrids] are spread out, they capture a little bit more wind in the field.”  

Bayer is introducing its first short-stature, conventionally bred corn seed in Mexico this year and Reiter says a GMO variety is on target to hit American markets in the mid to late next decade. The delay in the GMO varieties’ introduction is because of more complex breeding and regulatory processes, Reiter adds.

“You have to have the right insect protection and weed control system in place [before marketing it to U.S. growers] because growers are really demanding to have those options in their products,” Reiter explains. “That takes a little bit longer to introduce those traits and genetics.”