Will Shorter Corn Produce Higher Yields?

Short-stature corn harvest ( Brittany Bowman )

Sometimes old ideas can become new again. The Crop Science division of Bayer is banking on that concept with its development of short-stature corn.

The company is introducing its first short-stature, conventionally bred corn in Mexico this year and expects to launch the technology, with genetically bred traits, in other parts of North America within the “next several years,” according to Bob Reiter, head of research and development.

Reiter says Bayer is borrowing a page from the playbook of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Norman Borlaug, an American agronomist who identified the potential of short-stature crops by developing semi-dwarf, high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties in the 1960s and 1970s and sparked the original Green Revolution. In the 50-plus years since, Borlaug’s work has been credited with saving billions of people’s lives globally.

This week, Reiter said he expects short-stature corn will be “transformative, a blockbuster” for farmers. He made the remarks during Bayer’s 2019 Future of Farming Dialogue at the company’s headquarters in Leverkusen, Germany. The company hosts farmers, academics, and industry experts from more than 40 countries during the annual event.

The big benefit from short-stature corn, Reiter says, is that farmers will be able to plant corn seeds more closely together, producing more yield on the same amount of land. Short-stature hybrids will reach a maximum height of 7’ versus the 10’-plus height of traditional hybrids grown in the U.S.

Along with that, Reiter says:
•    The stouter plant structure is less susceptible to in-season crop loss due to standability issues like root lodging, greensnap and stalk lodging.
•    You can access short-stature corn fields with farm equipment much later in the growing season, making it possible to more precisely and efficiently apply needed nutrients and fungicides.
•    Under limited water conditions, plants with the native trait have shown reduced signs of stress.

Research at Purdue University in 2011 also indicates that corn “could benefit by becoming shorter and sturdier,” according to scientist Burkhard Schulz (now at the University of Maryland). In a news release Schulz noted that, “It is essential to change the architecture of plants to minimize how much land we need to produce food and fuels.”

Looking into the future, Reiter says he sees no reason why the production of short-stature corn hybrids won’t someday be the industry standard.

Other topics company officials addressed this week, included:

Outcome-based pricing shares risks
This past summer, Crop Science president Liam Condon introduced a pricing model that is currently under development by Bayer. Called outcome-based pricing, the concept is that if Bayer products don’t deliver on their promises, the company will refund growers on some measure of the purchase cost. On the other hand, when the products do deliver and farmers harvest higher yields the company would share in the financial gains.

Condon said the pricing concept is feasible, thanks to the predictive capability of Bayer’s FieldView digital data collection system.

Farm Journal Seeds and Production Editor, Sonja Begemann, covered the concept in detail in her article here: Future of Input Pricing: Buy Value, Not Just Product

Continued investments in data science and new technologies
Last year, Bayer signed more than 60 new collaborations or extensions to existing collaborations. Most recently, the company finalized an agreement with biopharmaceutical research company Arvinas to create a joint venture, the newly named Oerth Bio (pronounced “Earth”), to explore how molecular-degrading proteins found in plants and animals can protect crops against threatening pests and diseases.

Bayer has also set three ambitious goals to achieve by 2030, including:
1.    Reduce the environmental impact of crop protection by 30%, by developing new technologies that help farmers to scale down crop protection product volumes and enable a more precise application.
2.    Reduce field greenhouse gases emissions from the most emitting crops systems in the regions Bayer serves by 30%.
3.    Empower 100 million smallholder farmers in developing countries around the world by providing more access to sustainable agricultural solutions.

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