Top Crop Manager

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New corn research actually old

Snack food innovation moves into grain corn.


November 14, 2007
By Top Crop Manager

A corn hybrid that accepts only its own pollen. It sounds innovative and wondrous.
Yet it has been in use for years within the snack food industry.

Breeders used this method years ago for the popcorn trade to ensure purity
within the hybrid. But the move to the grain corn industry is something new,
if not well-accepted by many in the seed trade. Harry Brokish, director of product
development with AgReliant Genetics near Champaign, Illinois, confirms this
development is nothing new to the yellow corn industry as a whole. "It's
a technology that hasn't been used in the yellow dent corn business because
there was never any need," he says. "But now that we have GMO hybrids
so widely scattered throughout North America, non-GMO yellow dent corn may become
a specialty corn."

The key to this 'new' development is a non-transgenic pollen inhibitor trait
which simply prevents pollination by a different hybrid. Under normal field
conditions, the pollen of one plant rarely pollinates itself. In fact, up to
97 percent of kernels are pollinated by other plants in the field. "So
the most important use of this technology would be to avoid receiving pollen
from a GMO hybrid, thus ensuring there is no adventitious pollen effect in the
grain," says Brokish.

AgReliant, which develops seed innovations for Pride Seeds in Canada, has taken
the initiative on this, in spite of a lack of interest by most of the breeding
and seed companies. Brokish concedes the subject comes up for discussion from
time to time, but has been a forgotten subject to many in the industry. Yet
there are opportunities presenting themselves for just such a development. "One
company in Japan purchases non-GMO corn for a beer it brews," says Brokish,
"and there's a segment of Europeans that simply want non-GMO, and won't
accept anything else."

What is value?
It has long been held in North America that acceptance of genetically modified
crops such as corn and soybeans is an inevitability for Europe and Japan. In
Canada, however, the development of identity preservation markets for soybeans
has provided opportunities for growers and processors, turning a perceived negative
into a tangible positive.

There is also a growing trend that recognizes the importance of the value a
customer can derive from a product, thereby influencing the price of that product.
In North America, price is still the primary driver, although there are signs
that value is becoming a larger part of the decision-making process. However,
in Europe and Japan, says Brokish, there is a perception issue regarding a crop's
safety or purity that most North Americans may not value. "But Europeans
and Japanese do value that and they're willing to pay a premium for it."

Of course there are no guarantees this will work, but Brokish says there is
an opportunity to be explored. Despite a lack of acceptance of IP in corn, there
is a familiarity with the protocols and management skills that could put growers
in Canada at an advantage, should Brokish's work yield promising results. "We'll
try it and see how it goes," he says. -30-