Building the Corn Hybrid of the Future

Sponsored by Bayer

Scientists at Bayer are redefining how hybrids are developed to reduce risk from pests, disease and weather.

Building the Corn Hybrid of the Future

Accelerating innovation for farmers is the focus at Bayer.

By Jason Jenkins

For many Iowa corn farmers, Aug. 10, 2020, is a day they'd just as soon forget. On that miserable Monday, a line of severe thunderstorms raced across the Hawkeye State with straight-line winds reaching speeds up to 140 mph. The storm system, known as a derecho, carved a path of unmitigated destruction, flattening millions of corn acres to varying degrees, some to the point of total loss.

It's a sight that Dave Baitinger hopes to never see outside his window again. "My family farms, and we were right in the center of the derecho," says Baitinger, Seed Production Engineering Team Lead for Bayer. "So, the work we do at Bayer is very personal. I'm really excited about the short-stature corn we're developing that can give farmers options to lessen the risk of these weather events."

A shorter, sturdier stalk is just one of the latest innovations that Bayer is bringing to market through its comprehensive corn breeding research and development pipeline. Around the globe, the company's geneticists, engineers, plant breeders and others are guided by a simple philosophy that puts the farmer first.

combine in corn field

Photo: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

"It's so important that we're delivering what farmers need," says Tom Jury, Head of North America Field Testing at Bayer. "If we don't bring value to the farmer, we're wasting our time."

The products that Bayer brings to market need to help increase profit potential for the grower, says Trent Yantes, Bayer's Head of Trait and Pipeline Delivery. And while delivering value to the farmer is always central to the product development process, Bayer also ensures that new products are sustainable as well.

"It's no longer a choice to be one or the other," he says. "We need to make sure we're good stewards of our land and that our growers are able to prosper at the same time."

combine in corn field

Photo: Courtesy of Bayer Crop Science

Delivering corn hybrids with innovative traits and genetics has long been a hallmark of Bayer's portfolio. From pioneering insect-resistant Bt traits and seeds designed to protect against disease to herbicide-tolerant products, Bayer has developed solutions that help lower a grower's risk while increasing yield and profit potential.

That innovation continues today with technology that protects against yield-robbing corn diseases such as Goss's wilt, northern corn leaf blight and others.

Prescriptive, "tailored" solutions are becoming more specific than ever to a grower's environment and geography. "(We're) bringing not only specific products, but information to growers, so they can make the right choices for their operations," says Yantes. "We're able to take our data and our insights that we've learned throughout the R&D process and pass that information along to growers so that they get a full package of not only products, but the data that goes along with managing those products for optimal yield performance."

Data will help drive even more advances for future corn hybrids. And that excites Baitinger. "Here at Bayer, we take a multi-pronged approach to innovation," he says. "We want to make those steady, incremental gains, continue providing elite genetics, but we're also focused on looking for those game–changing technologies."

Perhaps foremost among those technologies is Bayer's proprietary seed chipping process, in which a tiny sample, or "chip," is taken from a corn seed. Breeders then analyze the corn DNA and screen it for beneficial traits without the need to grow out plants in the field, speeding the discovery process.

"One DNA chip can actually be as representative as an early stage field trial," Jury says. "This concept of precision breeding increases the probability that what we're putting in the ground is what the marketplace needs and increases our likelihood of success for the grower."

combine in corn field

Photo: Jamie Cole/Courtesy of AGCO Corporation

Bringing the breeding process indoors also speeds innovation. A new state-of-the-art automated greenhouse located in Marana, Arizona, is now the company's global product design center for corn. With roughly 7 acres of greenhouse space, the facility in the Arizona desert allows plant growth year-round, enabling breeders to grow three to four corn crop cycles annually under growing conditions that can be customized.

These new tools and capabilities allow Bayer to be prescriptive in its corn hybrid development, Yantes says, taking grower feedback and using it to design the genome that will best benefit them.

"We have to make sure we're developing quality products for them and their families," he says. "Not only from a financial standpoint but also from a sustainability standpoint so that we have the opportunity to continue to grow U.S. agriculture in the future."


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