January 2019

Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) Conference

Every year, we look forward to participating in the Practical Farmers of Iowa annual conference. It’s a fun time to say hi to some customers and to also get acquainted with farmers interested in learning about new corns.  We sponsored a table to display our specialties and conventional non-GMO hybrids.

On the morning of Friday, Jan. 18th, we were able to drive up to the front door of the Scheman Building at Iowa State University to unload.  We had been spoiled with mild weather for the past couple of months. All of a sudden, winter kicked in and made life a little more challenging.  More ice and snow was predicted for later in the day.  We were impressed with the number of participants who were at the conference.  The number of sponsors with display tables had also increased considerably.

People were most interested in the display of our blue corn hybrid ( GEI 411C ), our new earlier high carotene corn hybrid ( GEI 2312 ), and also our new mushroom popcorn hybrid ( GEI 202M ).  We enjoyed visiting with attendees, sharing yield test results of our organic 95 day hybrid (GEI 9010 ORG) and also of our conventional 105 day hybrid (GEI 9700).

We left the conference mid-afternoon on Friday, so we missed the Keynote Address with Michael Phillips from New Hampshire.  He spoke about the symbiotic relationship between mycorrhizal fungi and plant roots and the stimulation of plant health.  Driving back the next morning showed us that we made the right choice. There were numerous cars and trucks in the medians and ditches.

Saturday brought even colder weather and we had to park quite a ways away.  We were very grateful to get a ride to our car when we had all our display paraphernalia to tote.

Mushroom Popcorn

One intriguing object on the display table was the bottle of caramel corn made with GEI 202M . It’s called “mushroom popcorn” in the industry because of its compact shape when it is popped.  We have produced this hybrid this year and have seed available.

New Trends in Breeding Innovation

The interest in knowing about all the nutritional aspects of the food that we consume, the ways that it is produced, and where it comes from are some of the topics that are beginning to have an effect on the entire food chain. There is an interest in promoting the use of cereal grains and pulses and increasing the amount of vegetable proteins in the diets. 

The milling industry is also doing research on the milling aspects of pulses. There are some areas of the world such as Europe and Asia and specific countries such as U.S.A. and Germany where these trends seem to have a higher level of interest. Breeding of cereal crops and pulses, with exception of soybeans, has been done by public research. 

The level of investment on some of these crops is low to non-existent.  One crop that has caught the attention is fava beans. Europe, at one time, was looking at this crop as a potential replacement for soybeans because of the better fit to the cooler climates of central and northern Europe. The Canadian government announced last year significant amounts of public investment allocations for breeding cereal grains and pulses.  

Genetic Innovations

Biotechnologies are being utilized to improve the plant breeding methodologies and to shorten the breeding cycle of product development.  New technologies, such as gene editing, have opened the door for quick fixes and new targeted outcomes. Breeders can make changes in the nutritional value of a product by targeting protein composition, modifying enzyme pathways , or by replacing chromosome segments with constructed edited segments to insure a specific outcome.
Breeders can also customize products already developed to improve an important characteristic or trait. There are also other plant breeding technologies that are emerging in data management, phenotyping, and automation, that will improve the breeding and germplasm utilization.  Breeders are using social media to interact, to report findings and to share results informally. Some breeders have their own websites for sharing information. 

Planting Early Corn in Iowa

The target maturity for central Iowa is RM 110. 

Earlier maturities than RM 110 can be planted depending on the seasonal variations and special weather conditions around planting time. The official planting time in central Iowa is April 21.  This is the date to qualify for the government crop insurance coverage. Most farmers in the area plant beginning the last week of April to first week of May weather permitting.
At our research site in Luther, Iowa we plant the first week of May. We start recording daily heat unit accumulation beginning the same date of planting. We record flowering and silking in all the hybrids planted for observation and pollinating dates when we pollinate our breeding nursery. This record keeping is used to track the seasonal development at the site and the weather conditions during planting, plant development, flowering and maturing of all the selected GEI hybrids at this location. 

This data is used also to study the reaction of the breeding materials and hybrids to the temperature changes and the rainfall in the field. Weather data over time also give us the information on heat unit accumulation needed at the different stages of plant development. Yield records of the hybrids growing over a period of years and the weather data are helpful in hybrid selection and hybrid changes to seasonal variations over a period of years.

Early corn hybrids (RM 95-105) have been used in some years for late planting when excessive rains during the planting season have resulted in wet fields not accessible to planting equipment.  The long time records have indicated that farmers need 2-3 dry days in the season to complete planting. 

Most agronomists advise to keep the normal hybrid maturities for planting up to May 15. The choice of changing hybrids may depend on the planting outlook for weeks that follow. The usual advice is to consider earlier hybrids when the planting gets closer to the last week of May. Planting the first week of June is usually a choice of early corn with less yield prospects or to plant soybeans.

Organic farmers, usually plant later than conventional farmers because of the need to avoid contamination from GMO hybrids or because of late termination of cover crops in their fields.  Avoidance of cross contamination from GMO hybrids of the same maturity may require 10-15 days and several rows of border to ensure a low level of contamination.  

Late cover crop termination would affect planting dates and the choice of hybrid maturity depending on the time period of the planting delay. 
We had a question at the PFI conference in Ames about planting a RM 95 hybrid in early June.  Based on our weather records, our organic hybrid GEI 9010 (RM 95 to 105) would require 1,270 heat units to flowering and 2,500 total heat units to harvest. Planting GEI 9010 the first of June, it will flower the first week of August and would be ready to harvest by the end of October. Planting cover crops and developing crop rotations requires weather records for the area, or prior knowledge of the weather and farm history with weather, hybrid and variety maturities and response to weather changes during the growing season.  Long term weather records are available from local government agencies or with the help of the USDA Extension Service.

New Hybrid Releases from GEI

GEI 2312 High provitamin A (grain, milling, silage)  see website
GEI 9010 Organic yield test results 2017, 2018 and organic with interpretation available by request  see website

Feature for the Month: GEI 411C Blue Corn

High Anthocyanin Corn
Anthocyanins are the pigments in some plant tissue such as red, purple or blue.  Research has shown that fruits, vegetables and corn with this phytonutrient can protect against developing cardiovascular disease, cancer and neurological disorders.  It also fights the effects of aging and oxidative stress.The picture of GEI 411C kernels shows the reddish pericarp kernels on the right with nixtamalized kernels with pericarp removed, on the left.  The muffin was made with milled whole grain.  Having the red pericarp increases the total anthocyanin.  Nixtamalized grain makes the nutrient more available in the body. GEI 411C outperforms other blue corn hybrids on the market.

Percent amino acid per 100 grams of grain

The data of the % amino acid per 100 grams of grain indicate the % amino acid available in the grain for formulating a food or feed product. The relative values of amino acids present in the grain of each hybrid show the effect of the protein quantity in the grain irrespective of the quality of the protein. 

GEI 2318 has similar values to the high lysine hybrid types, but this protein requires supplementation with a higher protein source such as soybean oil meal for better functionality.

Total Anthocyanin Level
Total Anthocyanin level of GEI 411C (high anthocyanin corn) was determined at the ESCL Analytical Services, University of Missouri using the method of Li, et al (2011).

GEI 411C had a Total Anthocyanin content (TAC ) of 69.94 mg/100g
This value compares well with the TAC results of an average of 49.6 mg/100 g with arrange of 17.6-65.1mg/100 g reported for 8 cultivars of blue corn types reported in the paper ,  Grain and Nutritional Quality Traits of Southwestern U.S. Blue Maize Landraces  by Amol Nankar, et al, Cereal chemistry 94(6):950-955

Cornmeal Muffins (or Cornbread)
¾ cup cornmeal*
1 cup flour
¼ cup sugar
¾ tsp. salt
3 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
¼ cup vegetable oil

Stir (or sift) together dry ingredients.

Mix liquid ingredients together. Make a well in the dry ingredients, and then add liquid all at once. Beat thoroughly. For added anthocyanin, you can add dried cranberries.

Pour into greased 8” square cake pan**.  Bake at 400 degrees  for 25-30 minutes.

*I used corn flour instead of cornmeal
**This recipe makes 6 large muffins. Bake for 15-18 minutes.