Developing Affordable Seed Corn for On-Farm Production and Sales

Progress report for FNC21-1286

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2021: $27,000.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2023
Grant Recipient: Z Mojego Ogrodu
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Frank Kutka
Z Mojego Ogrodu
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Project Information

Description of operation:

We vary in size from a 65 acre mini-farm to several hundred acres used for raising cattle or seed crops.

One of our farm team members is an organic farmer, and two others are looking to transition. Several of us are beginning to work cover crops into our rotations, and two of us are adapting reduced tillage methods into our operations. This grant may help several of us work into seed crops if we are successful and find an economic alternative that is well adapted to our operations.

Summary:

Corn prices are low, input costs are high.  We know rotation, cover crops, and reduced tillage can improve this and our environment, but reduced seed costs and seed sales could also improve economic viability in a socially responsible manner.  Open pollinated (OP) corn is cheap and great for silage, but rarely for grain.  We have a good OP (Dairyland) corn variety that deserves improvement for yield.  The fastest way to improve corn is hybridization, so we propose to identify modern and exotic lines using reported genomic and new field-testing to boost the performance of Dairyland.  We could then make topcross hybrids and also form a new synthetic OP population (intermate the best of these crosses) to increase yields and seed sale opportunities.  Testcrosses were generated from identified lines and exotics in 2019/20.  These would be compared with Dairyland and check varieties in university variety trials in ND, WI, MI, NY, and VT in 2021.  We would measure grain nutritional quality and other factors to evaluate the economics of on-farm seed production (reviewer suggestion), and provide outreach events to discuss our project and sustainable corn production with the public to evaluate possible social benefits.  Information and seeds will be released to the public.

Project Objectives:
  1. Evaluate 30 corn testcrosses and check varieties in university trials and on our farms.
  2. Hold field events in MN, WI, and MI to discuss sustainable corn and seed production.
  3. Evaluate changes in knowledge and predicted changes in behavior among attendees.
  4. Evaluate the economics of on-farm seed production with a collaborating student (reviewer suggestion).
  5. Post our methods and findings to the internet and Extension/NGO cooperators.
  6. Hold a webinar about our methods and findings, evaluate changes among audience as above.
  7. Increase and release seeds so farmers can grow their own superior topcross hybrids or OP corn varieties.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Audrey Alwell
  • Stephanie Blumhagen
  • Dr. Heather Darby
  • Eric Doornbos - Producer
  • Scott Dudek - Producer
  • Jerry Ford
  • Verna Kragnes
  • Dr. Joe Lauer
  • Dr. Joel Ransom
  • Dr. Erin Silva
  • Dr. Maninder Singh
  • Dr. Margaret Smith
  • Stan Smith - Producer
  • Dr. Bill Tracy

Research

Materials and methods:

A superior OP corn variety, Dairyland, has been crossed with inbred lines from USDA and North Dakota State University (NDSU).  Recent genomic studies allowed us to choose inbreds that could add hybrid vigor to crosses with Dairyland, especially lines with Minnesota 13, Iodent, Pioneer Mixed, Flint, and exotic backgrounds.  Frank Kutka crossed lines/populations with Dairyland in 2019-2020 using hand pollination.

            Kutka will send seed of twenty-two testcrosses, two hybrid checks, and six OP checks to university cooperators in ND, WI, MI, NY, and VT in April 2021 for evaluation of yield, lodging, and grain moisture in replicated trials.  Each farmer will also plant out a single replicate of each experimental entry on their farms.  Plots will be two rows and @18’ long, planted in a block with an OP corn border.

            We will collect management data from our regular seed production.  The on-farm plots will be featured at field days at four farms.  We will discuss breeding, seed production, and sustainable corn production at the plots.  We will take photos to demonstrate our approach and document field day activities.  We will collect grain from each plot and send it to a DHIA lab for NIR analysis for major nutrients.  Plots will also be scored for plant form and lodging.  These data and the data from university trials will be summarized and shared with Extension, Non-governmental organizations, and via a video on Facebook and YouTube.

In 2022, we will increase and cross seeds of the best testcrosses to form an improved version of Dairyland, and release it publicly via the USDA (free to breeders) and sales.  Bill Tracy and Erin Silva at UW-Madison will oversee an undergraduate student who will study the economics of on-farm seed production and cost/bu for home-grown seeds (reviewer suggestion).  A second video and a ZOOM webinar will further highlight project findings and accomplishments.

Research results and discussion:

Seeds of our thirty experimental varieties (test crosses, OP varieties, check hybrids) were counted out, packed, and shipped to all project participants in spring of 2021.  Replicated trials were planted by NDSU, UW-Madison, MSU, Cornell, and UVM.  Farmers in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and New York planted single replicates to grow grain for nutritional analyses and to provide a backdrop for field events.  However, the planting in Michigan was destroyed by flooding, and the pandemic continued so we cancelled all field events.  Instead, on 18 October we posted a project introductory video on the Corn Culture blog on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/cornculture.info/).

As of the first week of January, 2022, three of the universities had submitted their data.  Preliminary summaries of these were also posted to the Corn Culture blog on 2 January, 2022.  Four of the farmers had or were soon to submit their grain samples to the Dairy One lab in Ithaca, NY for NIR analyses of major nutrients.  We are looking forward to going over all of these data, releasing more of the results to the public, and preparing numbers for the university student who will assist us with the economics evaluation this year.  Ideally we will also make some choices, begin making some new crosses, release some seeds to USDA, and hold field events this summer.  We also anticipate holding a webinar this fall.

The following are the data we posted to Facebook on 2 January 2022.

Here are some preliminary data from our variety trial this summer. These are the averages for yield and lodging from the trial carried out by NDSU in North Dakota. Our trial was composed largely of testcrosses onto the Dairyland population, some OP varieties that we have bred or are available from friends who sell them, and two hybrids from Foundation Direct Organic. In this trial we see that the check hybrids set a blistering pace for yield, and they also stood very well. They outyielded the best OP variety by just over 40%. The Pioneer Mixed lines crossed well with Dairyland here and this topcross hybrid appeared potentially competitive with the checks in North Dakota this year at this site, maybe the Minnesota 13 type lines too. Exotic types of maize did not add much to these crosses here. The best OPs at this site were Minnesota 13, from Green Haven, and Stan's OP, a composite recently developed by one of us in southeastern Minnesota. Some others had very high lodging in this trial. Could OPs be bred to yield higher than @130 bu/acre? These preliminary results suggest a major incremental step forward that could possibly be made in yield and lodging with the right synthetic population for North Dakota.
 
PEDIGREE YIELD LODGING
B73s/Dairyland 161 1
B37s/Dairyland 130 0
Iodents/Dairyland 164 1
Pioneer Mixed/Dairyland 181 1
Mo17s/Dairyland 169 0
MN13s/Dairyland 174 1
EP1/CO255//Dairyland 117 2
80-1/No. 380//Dairyland 119 9
Pete Seeger Cross/Dairyland 145 1
Wachichu/Compton's Early//Dairyland 93 17
Dairyland/(FBHJ/Euro Flint S3) 137 2
ND2004/Dairyland 131 0
ND2006/Dairyland 138 1
(CG-BS16/Syn A-NL)/Dairyland 115 1
Cateto Cross/Dairyland 126 2
NDBSK/Dairyland 147 2
Silver King/Dairyland 86 32
Dairyland/Cuzco Cross 97 23
Dairyland/Cacahuacintle Cross 84 29
Dairyland/Conico Cross 132 6
Sequia/Dairyland 150 0
Dairyland/Coroico Cross 86 2
Minnesota 13 135 8
Dublin 89 36
Stan's OP 128 4
Wapsie Valley 54 49
Tommy Boy 97 19
Dairyland 119 4
FDO 8833 184 0
FDO 8924 194 0
 
Preliminary results from this summer's trial carried out by MSU in Michigan offer a slightly different picture. This is of course frustrating, but perfectly normal. Variety trials give wildly different results over locations and years, and of course within fields too. The check hybrids from Foundation Direct Organics were exceptional for yield in this conventional trial in Michigan, with the best one yielding about 46% more than the best OP variety. The test crosses were, however, less competitive here, although two or three were probably higher yielding than the OP varieties. Here a few of the exotics pushed the Dairyland yield a bit and even stood okay. Others were still less impressive. The best OP varieties in this trial were still Stan's OP, the Minnesota 13 available from Green Haven Open Pollinated Seed Group, and also the Tommy Boy available from Dudek Seeds. Dairyland itself was one of the lower yielders again, but stood well. Getting an improved OP variety that would yield closer to 200 bu/acre here looks much less likely given these results, but lodging could likely be reduced without too much trouble.
 
PEDIGREE YIELD LODGING
B73s/Dairyland 182 4.6
B37s/Dairyland 150 0.3
Iodents/Dairyland 158 1.8
Pioneer Mixed/Dairyland 171 1.2
Mo17s/Dairyland 169 0.9
MN13s/Dairyland 139 0
EP1/CO255//Dairyland 118 5.3
80-1/No. 380//Dairyland 127 10
Pete Seeger Cross/Dairyland 110 5.8
Wachichu/Compton's Early//Dairyland 108 9.5
Dairyland/(FBHJ/Euro Flint S3) 137 3.3
ND2004/Dairyland 163 0
ND2006/Dairyland 110 16.4
(CG-BS16/Syn A-NL)/Dairyland 94 12.8
Cateto Cross/Dairyland 88 6
NDBSK/Dairyland 145 1.2
Silver King/Dairyland 136 6
Dairyland/Cuzco Cross 153 8.2
Dairyland/Cacahuacintle Cross 131 4.9
Dairyland/Conico Cross 143 4.2
Sequia/Dairyland 105 15.4
Dairyland/Coroico Cross 153 0
Minnesota 13 148 9.3
Dublin 127 17.5
Stan's OP 161 5.2
Wapsie Valley 127 25.4
Tommy Boy 135 6.7
Dairyland 128 0.6
FDO 8833 235 0
FDO 8924 208 2.1
 
Then there are these preliminary results from New York State from an organic trial conducted by Cornell University. These are different yet again, and this breeder is very interested to see other results and to do a regional analysis before getting too excited in any direction. Still...
 
Once more the hybrid checks were clearly on top, with the best one outyielding the best OP by about 35% (closer here than MI). However, in this trial the best OP outyielded all of the testcrosses on average. Wapsie Valley from Green Haven took the lead of the OPs here, with Minnesota 13, Stan's OP, and Tommy Boy also competing well with the very best of the testcrosses. For this environment with these results one might expect at best that a good synthetic might join these OP varieties and have perhaps lower lodging. That would be a much smaller improvement than what might be possible elsewhere, although handy for harvest.
 
We are still waiting for results from the two other states, and also for results of nutrient analyses of all of these thirty experimental entries from four of our farms. More to come soon.
 
PEDIGREE YIELD LODGING
B73s/Dairyland 130 7
B37s/Dairyland 140 2
Iodents/Dairyland 142 1
Pioneer Mixed/Dairyland 134 8
Mo17s/Dairyland 126 2
MN13s/Dairyland 105 10
EP1/CO255//Dairyland 98 5
80-1/No. 380//Dairyland 95 14
Pete Seeger Cross/Dairyland 93 8
Wachichu/Compton's Early//Dairyland 107 11
Dairyland/(FBHJ/Euro Flint S3) 114 4
ND2004/Dairyland 96 3
ND2006/Dairyland 102 8
(CG-BS16/Syn A-NL)/Dairyland 77 12
Cateto Cross/Dairyland 75 4
NDBSK/Dairyland 111 11
Silver King/Dairyland 111 6
Dairyland/Cuzco Cross 102 9
Dairyland/Cacahuacintle Cross 91 21
Dairyland/Conico Cross 118 7
Sequia/Dairyland 68 9
Dairyland/Coroico Cross 130 4
Minnesota 13 134 6
Dublin 127 18
Stan's OP 137 9
Wapsie Valley 148 21
Tommy Boy 139 10
Dairyland 90 8
FDO 8833 201 4
FDO 8924 181 1
Participation Summary
5 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools

Participation Summary:

338 Farmers participated
Education/outreach description:

So far the pandemic has squashed our use of traditional field events and meetings with fellow farmers.  We did post a video on the Corn Culture blog on Facebook, along with some tables of preliminary data.  As of 2 January, 338 people had noticed our introductory video and from 58-142 had taken notice of our data postings.

Additional outreach is planned for 2022.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.