Corn is the most productive cereal crop in the Midwest, and nitrogen fertilizer application to corn fields has polluted ground and surface waters and caused hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. Mandaamin Institute has developed nitrogen efficient, high-protein, high methionine, weed-competitive corn hybrids that will: 1) reduce the use of nitrogenous fertilizers, thereby reducing both input costs and pollution; 2) compete with weeds to improve the success of organic production systems; and 3) replace or reduce feeding of synthetic methionine to organic poultry, a common practice which is being phased out by federal mandate.
Under N-limited conditions, Mandaamin’s N-efficient inbreds and hybrids show strong growth, greater chlorophyll production, relative to standard cultivars and they compete better with weeds. Small plot research in 2015 and 2016 indicates that Mandaamin’s top hybrids are competitive in yield with conventional hybrids and produce considerably greater nutrient density and higher protein per acre than standard cultivars.
Mandaamin Institute has partnered with a commercial seed company (Foundation Organic Seeds, LLC, Onalaska, Wisconsin) and an organic farmer John Pounder (Pounder Brothers, Inc.) to produce seed in 2017 for larger-scale strip testing of these top hybrids. We propose testing these hybrids with 7 organic farmers on their farms in the southern Wisconsin region. Research will take place on 4 farms for the first and second year and 3 farms the third year. We will compare 3 hybrids; a normal hybrid, a N-efficient hybrid, and a N-efficient/putative N fixing hybrid. Testing will involve determining the impact of these hybrids on N uptake, N balance, N efficiency, N pollution, grain quality, and feed value under fertilized and unfertilized conditions on replicated strips. Soil research will estimate effects of plants on obtaining N from organic matter and N fixation.
We will work with poultry consultants and organic poultry producers to formulate diets and encourage the testing of diets on small flocks with grain from the experiments.
Information that focuses on the value of the hybrids to farmers will be distributed through publications, meetings, a newsletter, and the seed company. Evaluation will take place at our field days through questionnaires and through dialogues and will focus on the consequences of the work (i.e., what should the price be for high methionine corn?; what is the value of N efficient corn for replacing fertilizers?), as well as the quality of our results, and how to improve our approach.
The research will show: 1) the yield, quality, and reliability of the N efficient corn and its economics; 2) how N balances in soils and plants are affected by hybrids and fertilization; 3) how the methionine content affects feed composition and price for organic poultry producers. Farmers and others will learn whether this corn will help reduce N fertilizers (hence less pollution of water and air), produce more profitable and valuable corn crops, better and cheaper feeds for organic producers, and provide an alternative to synthetic methionine. If so, farmers will begin to grow, test, sell, and feed this corn.
The Mandaamin Institute has developed N efficient corn with high methionine contents suited well for feeding organic poultry or dairy cattle. We are engaged in testing the corn with farmers in Wisconsin to ascertain yields, quality and to learn about N uptake. The intent is to reduce N fertilizer use and hence expense, and pollution while increasing the value of the corn crop.
Mandaamin corn will reliably produce similar yields to conventional corn but with 30% higher (0.28%) methionine than conventional corn.
Mandaamin corn will allow farmers to fertilize less with organic manures and if so, identify where the N is coming from.
Main experiments were set out on three organic farms; one with dairy, one with poultry, and one without crops that used manure from a neighbor. These trials were replicated four times on each site with treatment with a putative N2 fixing hybrid from Mandaamin (C2B2 x C4-6) and a check hybrid from Foundation Organic Seed (FOS 8507). Treatments included strip blocks with and without manure and seed inoculation, with and without a consortium of N2 fixing bacteria prepared for the project by the Terra-Max Company, MN. Plots were long and soils were alfisols of variable organic matter content. Additional trials were carried out with cooperating farmers in strip trials with three treatments (C2B2 x C4-6; C2B2 x C4-6 inoculated, and FOS 8507).
Research was carried out on the Beiler, Clark, and Stoltzfuss farms in the context of replicated trials with and without manure, with two cultivars, a putative N2 fixing hybrid and a conventional hybrid, both with and without inoculation with N2 fixing bacteria. Trials on the Clark farm were problematic as the corn followed after alfalfa that was not killed adequately by spring tillage and there were drought effects.
Research was also carried out in strip trials with the Adsit, Stoltzfus, and Klinge farms on long strips with conventional hybrid and putative N2 fixing corn with or without inoculant and the Zinniker farm with just the two hybrids.
We intended to get spring and fall soil samples and tops and root samples from all sites. We got spring soil samples. But in the fall we experienced multiple personnel health challenges and were unable to collect all fall samples in 2018. We got grain yields on all sites except Klinge. We got tops and roots and spring and fall soil samples from Adsit and Zinniker.
We have a grinder and soon will grind tops and send them and the relevant soil samples in for testing in order to derive our first N budgets.
The N2 fixing hybrid proved to be susceptible to Gray Leaf Spot and was hammered by it in a year where we had the hardest foliar disease pressure in many years Gray-Leaf-Spot-problem-2018. We did not know this would be a problem as we had not experienced it before with this hybrid which had yielded competitively with conventional hybrids in the past. We will substitute a less susceptible putative N2 fixing hybrid this coming season.
However that hybrid did not respond to inoculate or to manure in its yield. The conventional hybrid appeared to respond to manure (+10 bu/acre) and to inoculate (+ 10 bu/acre). Raw averages are attached average-yields-2018 .
We expect the N2 fixing hybrid did not respond because it has N2 fixing bacteria already as endophytes inside the plant. The response to bacteria by the conventional hybrid was exciting though.
This has been year 1 of a three year project.
A field day was held on one of the research sites (Graham Adsit) in September, 2018 with approximately 87 attendees. The project was advertised to local and organic farmers. Due to weather conditions (the first sunny day after a lot of rain) attendance was more limited than was expected. There was a lunch and a two hour session to discuss farmer input on corn and quality and research.
There was interest that came in the spring from UW-Extension (Dr. Micheal Travis), NRCS personnel and a local citizen-based group in Western Wisconsin for Mandaamin Institute’s N efficient/N2 fixing corn. This is due to problems with widespread nitrate contamination of well water. In 2018 I gave a seminar in Mid May on our work followed by discussion (about 20 people)and a field day on September 20th (40 people, mostly farmers). The latter event was filmed but I don’t have a copy. The local paper wrote two articles, one after each event. One of them is attached 180927-Courier-Wedge-N-Field-Day. The group in Pepin County produced several on-farm field trials; one was replicated with Mandaamin hybrids and reduced N fertilizer rates with a conventional dairy farmer (Don Weiss). Trials are being planned again for 2019.
In addition, hour long talks on our research were given at Agrienergy’s farmer winter meetings on Jan. 23rd in Springfield, IL (ca. 100 attendees) and on Feb 6th in Shakopee, MN (ca. 40 attendees). Both of those were filmed and one of the films is attached. A third hour long presentation on our work with N efficient corn was given to farmers at the eOrganic Grain Conference and Tradeshow in Champaign, organized by the Land Connection. That session had about 60 people attend. It was also filmed but I don’t have a copy yet.
All sessions included considerable feedback and discussion with farmers to understand the significance of our results.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Two newspaper articles were written about our work. The magazine Discover interviewed us multiple times and will write an article on us and other researchers working on N2 fixing corn due to be published on our work. Meetings (1) and field days (2) and seminars (3) were given to farmers to talk about our work. Presentations were filmed. A paper documenting our research was accepted in a refereed journal called Open Agriculture. That paper is written by myself, Abdullah Jaradat, Linda Pollak, and Major Goodman, all established corn scientists.
- Nitrogen fixing corn
- Soil and root health and yield stability
- protein quality of corn and methionine
- corn breeding
learning how to reduce N fertilizer use.
We are still in the research stage with our project, doing plot and strip plot experiments and multiplying seed. We don’t have a lot of seed right now. However, 32 farmers at the Springfield session indicated they would like to try N efficient/N2 fixing corn if they could get the seed. I am guessing how many farmers really changed a practice. Some seemed to get it that they may have to change herbicide use if they want to foster N efficient/N2 fixing corn. Others seemed to get it that there is a link between soil health, root health, and N efficiency.
None right now.