July/August 2018 Newsletter

Research & Innovation

We had a drone flyover of the GEI research site in mid-July. It was amazing the clarity and the high level of detail obtained with a drone camera. With a little bit of practice a drone could be a wonderful tool to collect data, inspect your fields, anticipate problems or take corrective measures. You can follow the development of a farm crop and find the proper actions to ensure the best possible outcome of your farm investment.  

Looking at a potential application on GEI research, a drone flyover could collect data and bring it to view on an office computer for evaluation. You can make selections or discard material. This tool can be useful for big breeding programs where large amounts of data collection with multiple data points are needed.  In our GEI corn breeding program, we consider the breeder time in the field more important to see and to identify traits important for our program. 

We selected two pictures of our drone flyover to show this year’s local research efforts at the GEI Luther farm:

Overall view of the field

This shows the relative location of the research projects. It starts with 4 strips of 10 rows each of GEI commercial hybrids: our white corn hybrid GEI 9584W, followed by GEI 9010 Organic, mushroom popcorn POP 202 M, and high carotene hybrid GEI 2318. The local yield test, hybrid observation expo and nursery follows.

What are the new trends and long view of the industry?

The current focus and long view of the seed industry is the use of big data and support technologies to maximize yields.  Big companies are continuously offering farmers their expertise.  Services offered include satellite images, research insights, knowledge of plant development, crop phenology, fertilizer use and application, plant nutrient deficiencies, disease, etc.  This is used to monitor crops during development and also to mitigate problems with appropriate solutions.

Breeding companies are using gene editing techniques using CRISPR- Cas 9 to modify or rewrite genetic code. This technique will revolutionize how breeding is conducted in the future. One of the most recent setbacks for this research is the EU decision to treat this new technology as a GMO.  

Companies that were hopeful for the use of this technology in Europe might have to move to other areas where they can use this technology.

What is GEI Doing?

Our focus is to continue the use and application of whole plant genetics in the  development of new conventional genetics. Our focus is better yields and better agronomic traits to support our specialty product line conversion program.

Progress Landmarks 
GEI will be releasing a new high carotene hybrid with earlier relative maturity. This RM 112 hybrid will widen the maturity choices for this specialty. Seed of this hybrid is currently under production and will be available for the 2019 planting season. 

A new hard endosperm hybrid with RM 113 will also be released for seed production in 2019. This hybrid will be a companion hybrid to GEI 9717.

We are testing 4 new blue corn hybrids with modifications to the anthocyanin types. We are focusing on having new anthocyanin combinations on white background with red pericarp and blue pigmentation in the aleurone layer and also a hybrid without the red pericarp. 

A new high anthocyanin hybrid on white corn background for the milling industry will be tested beginning in 2019.  We have a dynamic program for this specialty area because of the nutritional impact for the food industry.

Modified starch corn work continues on the development of waxy and resistant starch hybrids. 

New Hybrid Seed
White corn (GEI 9584W) RM 110
Early high lysine (GEI 9887 lys) RM 105-108
High carotene (GEI 2312) RM 112
Mushroom popcorn (GEI 202M) RM 112

“Conga Line” in our Corn Field

A number of years ago, a friend’s daughter was doing her student teaching year during a summer school at an inner city Des Moines school. She called us to ask if we would be willing to have her class come to see our corn field. Most of her fifth graders had never seen corn before. 

We formed a “conga line” and snaked our way through 30” rows and ranges of corn.  We told them about all the different uses of corn and pointed out various specialties with specific uses. After a lesson on pollinating, we opened an immature corn ear and showed the tiny kernels with a silk attached to each one. They were able to shake a tassel to see the pollen fall out. Since this was a smaller nursery, there was much diversity of corn to see – red silks, green tassels, wide leaves, low ears, etc.  

We finally displayed a grocery sack filled with many foods that all contained corn in some form. Each child went back to school with a different ear of corn and small bags of gum drops and popcorn. Vicky, the teacher, said that they talked about their field trip for days. They even had a follow-up field trip to a grocery store to find all the foods that were made with corn. It was a joy to see their excitement.

Grain-Free Dog Food

If a pet owner shops at a store that specializes in pet food, one is inundated with signs that the food is grain-free and gluten-free. This latest food fad of grain-free diets seems to have created a problem that didn’t exist before.  
A recent article and news story tells about veterinarians seeing more and more dogs that are lethargic and not their usual selves. Dr. Josh Stern, DVM, has been investigating a link of this grain-free diet with an amino acid (taurine) deficiency and dilated cardiomyopathy. A change in diet to include a food that has grain as an ingredient has shown a quick improvement for the dog.

In one literature review, 278 dogs with food allergy were evaluated. 95 were allergic to beef, 55 to dairy. Only 7 were identified with an allergy to corn.
Source: Axelsson et al.

Mushroom Popcorn Experiment

There are two kinds of popcorn: flake (butterfly) and mushroom. We have worked with both types and have developed hybrids of each. 

Flake popcorn is the kind sold at the movies and also for “home” popping. It’s light and airy and holds butter and salt well.  

Mushroom popcorn has a thicker hull and at the right temperature, explodes into a ball shape. This is the corn used for making caramel corn or kettle corn.  The round shape lends itself well to coating. 

We knew that a higher heat (400° to 450°) was needed for the mushroom popcorn to pop into a ball. We popped GEI 202M (mushroom popcorn) using olive oil, in the microwave. You can see in the left photo the result. We popped the same hybrid corn kernels without oil in an air popper. The intended result is in the photo on the right.