Testing N efficient, high methionine corn hybrids with organic farmers

Project Overview

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.

Information Products


  • Agronomic: corn


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, feed rations
  • Crop Production: crop improvement and selection, food product quality/safety, nutrient management, organic fertilizers, plant breeding and genetics, tissue analysis, Nitrogen efficient/nitrogen fixing corn
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Energy: energy conservation/efficiency
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, value added
  • Natural Resources/Environment: nitrogen efficiency and prevention of pollution from fertilizers
  • Production Systems: dryland farming, organic agriculture, transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: increasing nitrogen efficiency of crops

    Proposal abstract:

    Corn is North America’s most productive and most grown cereal.  But it has pollution problems due to the necessity for large amounts of nitrogen fertilizers and problems with a lack of nutritional density in its grain.   This research project focused on testing new hybrids bred at the Mandaamin Institute which have potential for resolving both of these problems.  These hybrids possess microbial partnerships that enable the corn to efficiently take up minerals and nitrogen without the use of fertilizers. 

    The hybrids were studied in the context of different farming systems and soil fertility conditions.  Studies with microscopy, field trials on different farms, and mineral and natural isotope analyses showed that

    1) the plants exercise rhizophagic cycles with seed associated bacteria, leading to nitrogen efficiency in field trials, high levels of δ15N in tissues, and grain with high protein and mineral contents;

    2) these partnerships result in comparable yields to manured commercial hybrids where no manure is added to the Mandaamin hybrids;

    3) Hybrids with the Mandaamin inbred C4-6 as a parent particularly express these traits and also appear to fix N2

    4) The C4-6 based Mandaamin hybrids also respond negatively to fresh manure but positively to high organic N and to high soil protein levels resulting from cattle manure. 

    5) The negative effect of fresh manure applications on the C4-6 based hybrids extends to yield and mineral uptake and this problem is worse on soils with low organic matter content.

    6)  The Mandaamin hybrids have grain with a high nutritional value due to their high content of the essential amino acids methionine and lysine and their enhanced mineral content and this may offset a slightly lower yield. 

    Future research should be directed towards testing and confirming concepts developed in the course of this project while extending the testing to more farms.  Breeding should be fostered that focusses on stability for both microbial assisted processes of rhizophagy and N2 fixation coupled with adequate yield performance and enhanced nutritional value under variable soil conditions with reduced N inputs.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Corn is the major cereal crop for North America and the most productive cereal in the world.  However, conventional corn production is largely dependent on the use of mineral nitrogen fertilizers.  Organic farmers often depend on bought in chicken manure.  Nitrate production in the soil under corn, coupled with the use of these N fertilizers results in surplus nitrate in the soil.  This nitrate is denitrified by bacteria to produce nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas.  The excess nitrate not used by the crop leaches from the soil and causes massive pollution of wells, lakes, rivers, and also the Dead Zone off the Gulf of Mexico.  Modern hybrids have been found to have an enhanced ability to foster microbes in their rhizospheres that increase nitrification in the soil and denitrification (Favela et al., 2021).  

    Furthermore, the-sided focus on increased yields may have reduced nutrient density of crops and thereby affect the health of end users.

    This project was about evaluating the impacts and value of new, experimental hybrids which have been developed to reduce the need for nitrogen fertilizers while increasing nutrient density.  These hybrids were developed at the Mandaamin Institute, mostly under organic farming conditions that were N limited.  They resulted from a field based breeding program (Goldstein et al. 2012; 2019) that, up to now, has utilized 51 growing seasons in Wisconsin, Chile, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii.  The program selected corn for the needs of organic farming including for better nutritional value and nitrogen efficiency. The hybrids that resulted may have potential for resolving some of the Midwest’s most intractable problems with corn and N pollution that go beyond organic farming.  This possibility is due to partnerships with microbes (Goldstein, 2016). 

    During this project the impacts and value of the Mandaamin hybrids were evaluated using on-farm testing.  Objectives included 1) testing several Mandaamin hybrids on multiple farms to determine their agronomic and quality characteristics and effects of soil and soil management; 2) examining nutrient uptake, nitrogen efficiency and nitrogen fixation in the hybrids; 3) testing whether inoculating seed with N2 fixing bacteria would improve crop performance and N efficiency.

    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.