Corn School: Nitrogen-fixing hybrids 10 years away

Imagine planting corn hybrids that could produce 40 to 80 percent of their nitrogen requirements.

It’s only 10 years away, says University of Wisconsin–Madison researcher Dr. Vania Pankievicz. The breakthrough comes from a Mexican corn variety called Sierra Mixe. At the recent Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario conference in London, Ontario, Pankievicz explained that the 15-foot tall variety, often referred to as giant corn, grows aerial roots that secrete a mucus-like gel that supports bacteria capable of converting atmospheric nitrogen into amonia that can be used by the plant.

On this edition of RealAgriculture Corn School, Pankievicz explains that her team has identified the “nitrogen-fixing” trait and the process of developing commercial hybrids that can bring nitrogen into farmers’ fields is underway. Researchers have successfully seen the trait expressed in Wisconsin trials and are confident they can breed it into hybrids that can be grown across North America.

Pankievicz estimates it will be a decade before the nitrogen-fixing hybrids will be commercially available. She notes that the Sierra Mixe is an extremely tall tropical variety that typically grows in a high humidity environment at 25 to 30 degrees C. Researchers will have to develop inbreds that are adapted to more northern climates. They’ll also be looking to reduce height to manage harvestability, and determine the best agronomic practices to manage the new hybrids.

Bernard Tobin discusses the potential for nitrogen-fixing corn with Dr. Vania Pankievicz.

Click here for more Corn School episodes.


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