Huitlacoche Production as an Alternative Crop in South Texas

Project Overview

Project Type: On-Farm Research
Funds awarded in 2013: $14,962.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Alexis Racelis
University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn


  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research, participatory research


    Continued investigations for the commercial production of huitlacoche in corn again resulted in only one effective method—silk-channel inoculation. New techniques to culture the huitlacoche fungus as an inoculant were tested, but as in previous trials, the only inoculant to produce huitlacoche was that created with pure strains of the huitlacoche fungus, Ustilago maydis. Corn cultivar did not play a large role in the amount of huitlacoche produced, but preventing pollination by de-tasseling was again critical for the production of huitlacoche in a substantial amount.

    Project objectives:

    To introduce huitlacoche to a larger portion of the American market requires the development of reliable methods that will allow for the production of larger quantities that a grower in the South can market over the entire growing season. Several factors can affect the production of huitlacoche. Among them are determining which spore source creates the best or most effective inoculant and discovering if certain varieties of corn are more susceptible or produce more huitlacoche than others. This research is necessary to be able to produce huitlacoche commercially and provide an alternative crop that will help small-scale growers in the South to remain economically sustainable.

    This project’s three research objectives will be carried out simultaneously over the course of four growing seasons (two years) as follows:

    1. Determine what sources of huitlacoche spores provide the highest success rate for propagation.

      In order to inoculate corn, huitlacoche spores must be gathered. Sources of huitlacoche spores will include frozen huitlacoche, fresh huitlacoche, and pure culture strains of the huitlacoche fungus, Ustilago maydis. Frozen huitlacoche will be purchased from an online source, and fresh huitlacoche will be culled from naturally occurring huitlacoche in corn. Pure culture strains of maydis will be obtained from researchers at the University of Illinois. A sporidial suspension will be produced with each of these sources and used to inoculate corn in order to determine its viability as an inoculum. Percentage of corn in which huitlacoche develops will be evaluated. The steps involved in determining the best spore source for huitlacoche propagation include:

      a. Investigate and collect possible sources of huitlacoche spores.
      b. Create and maintain sporidial suspensions with each spore source.
      c. Inoculate corn using each spore source.
      d. Assess percentage of corn in which huitlacoche develops.

      2. Determine what varieties of corn are best suited for huitlacoche propagation.

      Some varieties of corn may be more prone to developing huitlacoche than others. To determine which varieties are best suited for huitlacoche production in South Texas weather conditions, three varieties identified as being suitable for huitlacoche production will be planted and inoculated with each of the spore sources previously described. The trials will be conducted through four growing seasons (spring and fall 2013 and spring and fall 2014). Steps required to determine which varieties of corn are most suitable for huitlacoche production include:

      a. Plant three corn varieties that research has shown are the most appropriate for huitlacoche propagation.
      b. Inoculate each variety with each spore source.
      c. Evaluate the number of plants and ears that produced huitlacoche in each variety.

      3. Disseminate findings to local growers through outreach efforts.

      A major objective of this Research Project is to share the knowledge gained with small-scale producers in the South so that they may be able to grow this alternative crop and sell it for a premium price through direct-marketing channels. Outreach efforts will begin by reporting results on the University’s outreach website and continue with the production and broadcasting of a project video. The project video will be produced and broadcast on a regional television station by Valley Telephone Cooperative. The University also operates a number of USDA-funded outreach projects that will provide effective outreach for project research. Training events will be conducted by the University and its resource partners, including University outreach projects funded by USDA Office of Advocacy and Outreach (OAO), National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). During the training events, growers will be informed of the best spore source, corn variety, and inoculation technique to use in order to grow huitlacoche successfully. Instructions and demonstrations will be presented on how to create the sporidial suspensions and how to inoculate the corn. The steps required to fulfill this objective include:

      a. Create a report for the University website and update it as findings become available.
      b. Produce a video detailing the Project and all of its components.
      c. Broadcast the video on a regional television station.
      d. Conduct training events for local growers

    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.