Progress report for FNC21-1286
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.
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.
- Evaluate 30 corn testcrosses and check varieties in university trials and on our farms.
- Hold field events in MN, WI, and MI to discuss sustainable corn and seed production.
- Evaluate changes in knowledge and predicted changes in behavior among attendees.
- Evaluate the economics of on-farm seed production with a collaborating student (reviewer suggestion).
- Post our methods and findings to the internet and Extension/NGO cooperators.
- Hold a webinar about our methods and findings, evaluate changes among audience as above.
- Increase and release seeds so farmers can grow their own superior topcross hybrids or OP corn varieties.
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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.
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.
Educational & Outreach Activities
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.