Testing N efficient, high methionine corn hybrids with organic farmers

Progress report for LNC17-389

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2017: $196,088.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2021
Grant Recipient: Mandaamin Institute, Inc.
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Walter Goldstein
Mandaamin Institute, Inc.
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Project Information

Summary:

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 2 hybrids; a normal hybrid, and a N-efficient/putative N fixing hybrid with and without a bacterial inoculate containing N2 fixing bacteria extracted from corn.  Testing will involve determining the impact of these hybrids and inoculate 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.

Project Objectives:

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.

Introduction:

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.

 

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Moses Stoltzfus
  • Moses Beiler (Researcher)
  • Dale Clark (Researcher)
  • Steven Mohr (Researcher)
  • Mallory Krieger (Educator)
  • Dean Craine (Educator)
  • Dr. Carmen Ugarte (Educator)
  • Dr. Abdullah Jaradat (Researcher)
  • Graham Adsit (Researcher)
  • Mark Zinniker (Researcher)
  • Dr. Micheal Travis (Educator)
  • Don Anibas (Researcher)
  • Don Weiss (Researcher)
  • Mark Doudlah (Researcher)

Research

Hypothesis:

 Mandaamin corn will reliably produce similar yields to conventional corn but with 30% higher (0.28%) methionine than conventional corn. 

Inoculation with N fixing bacteria will increase yield under low N conditions.  Mandaamin corn will allow farmers to fertilize less with organic manures and if so, identify where the N is coming from. 

Materials and methods:

First Year: 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;108 day RM) and a check hybrid from Foundation Organic Seed (FOS 8507; 108 day RM).  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). 

Second year:  Severe wet weather conditions and changes in participating farmers caused us to re-evaluate our research strategy and to request a change in plans which was accepted by SARE staff.  In conjunction with an OREI project we focussed on identifying our best Mandaamin hybrids and doing N budgets and rhizosphere soil research on them as well as doing research as previously done with innoculant x variety effects.  In the variety trials we worked with farmers Anibas (Arkansaw), Adsit (East Troy), Beiler (Rewey), Doudlah (Evansville), Stoltzfus (Darlington), Weiss (Durand), and Zinniker (Elkhorn).  All these farmers except Weiss are organic and two were Amish.  Stoltzfus had two sites on his farm.  Plot width was one row (Stoltzfus), two rows (Stoltzfus, Beiler), three rows (Anibas, Doudlah, Weiss), four rows (Adsit, Zinniker).  Hybrids tested were NG10-2-3-2 X MD1 (102 day RM); 15.C406 (104 day RM); 17.C4-6 (104 day RM); C2B2-1.C4-6 (108 day RM); C2B2-7.C4-6 (108 day RM); 17.2B24 (108 day RM); C4-6.9.2)11 (95 day RM).  FOS8500 (105 day RM) was the commercial check.  Crop planting date varied from mid May to mid June.  Plot length varied from farm to farm but with the exception of Adsit was at least 200 feet in length. 

Table 1 WI variety trials 2019  
Farm Type Rotation manure
Cash operations bringing in nutrients  
Farm A large organic cash cropping operation corn after winter rye cover crop chicken and dairy slurry; slurry in 2019
Farm C small poultry production with bought in feed. corn after pumpkins mainly poultry manure.
Farm O large organic cash cropping operation corn after soybeans? generally chicken manure, nothing applied in 2019
Cow based operations with integrated production.
Farm L small organic beef corn after alfalfa grass pasture manure from winter feeding and compost
Farm S&T small organic dairy corn after alfalfa grass hay manure from dairy slurry
Farm M organic dairy  corn after alfalfa grass hay manure from dairy 
Farm U,V large conventional dairy corn after corn manure from dairy slurry; V not fertilized

Soil samples were taken from each plot and  under the root zone at harvest for four cultivars including the commercial check.  Spring samples were analyzed by the University of Illinois (Wander Lab) and fall samples were analyzed by Woods End Soil Testing Lab.  Grain yields were determined by hand harvesting grain from 9 foot miniplots at three equally  spaced intervals , usually 30 to 50 feet apart.  Stover (stalk samples) samples were harvested and shredded.     Root monoliths from 12 x 12 x 8 inch monoliths were washed to extract roots, and root samples were dried.  Dried samples were ground with a Wiley mill and sent to USDA-Morris for further preparation for natural N isotope analysis to determine total N for N budgeting and delta 15N ratios for estimates of N2 fixation.  Processing of samples is underway but slowed down by Covid-19 complications.  Samples will by analyzed by UC Davis Isotope facility.

Inoculation x Variety trial.  The same trial from the first year was replicated three times on two farms with the same experimental arrangement (split-split block) with the first split being hybrids and the second split being with or without bacterial innoculant.  These were Anibas (organic) and Weiss (conventional).  However, on the Anibas farm all plots were manured and on the Weiss farm the two treatmetns were a low rate of N fertilizer or the same low rate plus a high rate of dairy slurry.  We are anticipating data from Weiss on exact rates.  The two cultivars utilized were FOS 8500 (check) and 17.461 (Mandaamin).  The same experimental bacterial innoculant was utilized.  Sampling and analysis for soils, stalks, and roots occurred in the fall as described in the variety trial above.

 

Research results and discussion:

First Year: 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.

Second year  tables are reported in attached document called https://projects.sare.org/wp-content/uploads/SARE-report-tables-2019.pdf; see link at end of the year report.

Second year: Variety Trials:  We partitioned the farms into cow-based farming operations and cash grain farms where manure or fertilizer inputs were brought in from the outside Early soil tests revealed no difference in available N in the spring between the dairy and cash farms but higher levels of available P and K, probably associated with the historical use of chicken manure or other brought in manures. 

Table 2 and 3 shows mean values for the soil test results between and within rows of the different cultivars.  As there was only one replicate for each farm we used an analysis of variance using the farms as replicates.  The results did not indicate significant differences at p<5%.  However the results indicated some tendencies for soils higher respiration for some cultivars.  It might be important to do the experiment again with replicated trials on each farm as there was great variation between farms.

Results in Table 4 showed that on average grain yields were higher for the check; this was true for the cow based systems but not for the cash based systems or under conditions without fertilization.  In those cases yields were higher for some of the Mandaamin hybrids.  Farm U-M and V-NM represent adjacent plots on the same farm with (M) and without (NM) manure.

Second year variety x inoculate study.  The second year of trials compared effects of inoculation on two different hybrids, FOS8500 and Mandaamin hybrid 9.2)17 x C4-6 (see Table 5) .  The The Mandaamin hybrid did not respond to inoculation.  FOS8500 yielded better and inoculate appeared to increase yields on the manured site at Anibas where corn followed alfalfa + grass and on the N fertilized site at Weiss where corn followed after corn.  However, the inoculate may have had a negative effect on yields on Weiss where corn was more heavily fertilized both with N fertilizer and high rates of dairy slurry.

Quality analyses.  We have yet to receive analyses of grain from the 2019 trials.  Results from two years of yield trials in three states were given to the author by our cooperators at the University of Illinois (Martin Bohn, C. Andrade and their graduate students) and are presented in Table 6 below and in the attached poster.  The yield values correspond to trials done with two Mandaamin hybrids on all sites in IL, IN, and WI in both years.  On average our best hybrid yielded 11% less than the checks in three states in 2018 and 9% less than the checks in both 2018 and 2019.  However our cultivars have half again more methionine in their grain,  much higher levels of carotenoids including pro-Vitamin A contributing carotenoids beta carotene and cryptoxanthine, and higher levels of micronutrients such as zinc, iron, copper and manganese.  Large differences in values between the commercial checks and the two Mandaamin cultivars are are indicated in red script;  these values are much higher than would be associated with a concentration effect associated with a lower grain yield for the Mandaamin hybrids.

: Variety Trials:  We partitioned the farms into cow-based farming operations and cash grain farms where manure or fertilizer inputs were brought in from the outside Early soil tests revealed no difference in available N in the spring between the dairy and cash farms but higher levels of available P and K, probably associated with the historical use of chicken manure or other brought in manures. 

Table 2 and 3 shows mean values for the soil test results between and within rows of the different cultivars.  As there was only one replicate for each farm we used an analysis of variance using the farms as replicates.  The results did not indicate significant differences at p<5%.  However the results indicated some tendencies for soils higher respiration for some cultivars.  It might be important to do the experiment again with replicated trials on each farm as there was great variation between farms.

Results in Table 4 showed that on average grain yields were higher for the check; this was true for the cow based systems but not for the cash based systems or under conditions without fertilization.  In those cases yields were higher for some of the Mandaamin hybrids.  Farm U-M and V-NM represent adjacent plots on the same farm with (M) and without (NM) manure.

Second year variety x inoculate study.  The second year of trials compared effects of inoculation on two different hybrids, FOS8500 and Mandaamin hybrid 9.2)17 x C4-6 (see Table 5) .  The The Mandaamin hybrid did not respond to inoculation.  FOS8500 yielded better and inoculate appeared to increase yields on the manured site at Anibas where corn followed alfalfa + grass and on the N fertilized site at Weiss where corn followed after corn.  However, the inoculate may have had a negative effect on yields on Weiss where corn was more heavily fertilized both with N fertilizer and high rates of dairy slurry.

Quality analyses.  We have yet to receive analyses of grain from the 2019 trials.  Results from two years of yield trials in three states were given to the author by our cooperators at the University of Illinois (Martin Bohn, C. Andrade and their graduate students) and are presented in Table 6 below and in the attached poster.  The yield values correspond to trials done with two Mandaamin hybrids on all sites in IL, IN, and WI in both years.  On average our best hybrid yielded 11% less than the checks in three states in 2018 and 9% less than the checks in both 2018 and 2019.  However our cultivars have half again more methionine in their grain,  much higher levels of carotenoids including pro-Vitamin A contributing carotenoids beta carotene and cryptoxanthine, and higher levels of micronutrients such as zinc, iron, copper and manganese.  Large differences in values between the commercial checks and the two Mandaamin cultivars are are indicated in red script;  these values are much higher than would be associated with a concentration effect associated with a lower grain yield for the Mandaamin hybrids.SARE report tables 2019

 

Research conclusions:

This has been year 1 and 2 of a three year project.

Participation Summary
9 Farmers participating in research

Education

Educational approach:

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. 

In the second year two meetings were held with farmers in Durand, Wisconsin to discuss the project in conjunction with Mike Travis, UW-Extension.  The area has sandy soils and nitrogen pollution of surface and well water is a big problem. The first was a spring meeting with farmers and others, but I have lost documentation on the date so I am not including it. The other was a field day on the Weiss Farm, held in October 3, 2019 where a group of approximately 25 farmers met to discuss results and to view test plots.  The event was about nitrogen and corn and the flier is attached. Results were that several farmers were enthusiastic about the way the Mandaamin corn looked without fertilizer and they requested seed to try.  Mike and his colleagues applied for a grant and got funding to pay for seed.  Unfortunately, due to wet weather hybrid seed production failed in 2019 and we have to delay getting seed to farmers.

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In addition to this, on March 12th, Walter Goldstein also met with a group of about 20 farmers and ag educators near Durand to show slides, discuss the research and to enlist aid in carrying out trials in 2020.

Also, Walter Goldstein competed to present a poster at the scientific session of the MOSES organic conference in LaCrosse, Wisconsin in February, 2019  The results presented show yields of Mandaamin hybrids relative to conventional hybrids on farms in three states and the quality differences found in 2018.  Results show somewhat lower yields for Mandaamin hybrids (the best yielded 9% less than hybrid checks on all states over 2 years.  However nutritional quality was much higher (micronutrients, protein quality, carotenoids) for the Mandaamin cultivars.  The paper was viewed by many farmers and leaders in the organic movement.  The poster is attached. 

Project Activities

Field day Adsit Farm, Sept 2018
Field Day, Weiss farm, Pepin County, Sept 20th, 2018
Presentation with Pipin County group concerned about water pollution.
Two winter meetings with Agrienergy to talk about our work.
eOrganic Grain and Tradeshow Conference presentation.
Research trials on farms
Corn and Nitrogen sustainability for profit and environment Field Day Weiss Farm
Workshop on N efficient corn in Durand

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Consultations
3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Journal articles
6 On-farm demonstrations
2 Published press articles, newsletters
3 Webinars / talks / presentations
2 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

1 Farmers
40 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

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.

 

Learning Outcomes

308 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
45 Agricultural service providers reported changes in knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes as a result of their participation
Key areas taught:
  • Nitrogen fixing corn
  • Soil and root health and yield stability
  • protein quality of corn and methionine
  • corn breeding

Project Outcomes

20 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
Key practices changed:
  • learning how to reduce N fertilizer use.

1 Grant applied for that built upon this project
1 Grant received that built upon this project
1 New working collaboration
Success stories:

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.

Recommendations:

None right now.

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.