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.

Short Stature Corn Makes a Stand

Bayer raises the bar by reducing plant height.

By Jason Jenkins


There was once a time on American farms when a corn crop reaching "knee-high by the Fourth of July" was cause for celebration. Such stature represented the promise of a productive growing season and a bountiful harvest in the fall.

Over time, as corn genetics improved, plants became taller. Hybrids achieved heights of 10 feet or more, and growers began associating increased height with increased yield. While the well-worn expression remained, "knee-high" was no longer the bar to clear.

Today, producers face a growing litany of weather extremes, from droughts and floods to high-wind events. They also are tasked with addressing sustainability and their carbon footprint while maintaining yields and profits.

So how can corn producers stand tall against these challenges? Bayer believes answers can be found in shorter corn.

"Short stature corn is just what it sounds like," says Kelly Gillespie, Crop Efficiency Portfolio Lead at Bayer. "We’ve created corn hybrids that are roughly one-third shorter than standard hybrids of 10- to 12-feet tall. Short stature corn is also designed to be more resilient to challenging weather conditions – such as some of the extreme wind events we’ve seen over the past few years. Footnote 1

Through its robust and comprehensive research and development pipeline, Bayer is developing corn hybrids through conventional breeding, biotechnology, as well as the latest method through gene editing, to shrink the distance between the corn plant’s leaves. By shortening this internodal length, the height of the entire plant is decreased without altering other attributes.

"From a physics standpoint, due to improved plant standability, short stature corn hybrids will provide growers increased protection from both lodging and greensnap," Gillespie says.

Tom Jury, Head of North America Field Testing at Bayer, says short stature corn hybrids could have an immediate impact on corn production simply by reducing the risk of lodging.

"If you’re able to take 5% to 10% of the lodging out of the marketplace, that’s up to 5% to 10% more grain that’s produced," he says. Footnote 2

Jury notes that several of Bayer’s test plots were in the path of the 2020 derecho that ripped across Iowa. While several fields of tall corn were laid flat, a number of Bayer’s short stature corn plots resisted the battering winds. Footnote 3

"We want to be able to help our farmer-customers reduce their risk of yield losses from lodging or greensnap in high winds and challenging weather conditions," he says. "If we continue to have more of these severe wind events, developing hybrids with improved standability is really where I think the market is going to head."

But improved standability isn’t the only potential benefit of these hybrids that feature reduced plant height. Because of the increased tolerance to greensnap and lodging, Gillespie suggests that short stature corn hybrids will allow growers to explore higher planting densities with less risk of lodging, providing the potential to produce more on every acre.

These hybrids also offer agronomic advantages when it comes to in-season management. These hybrids will provide growers increased flexibility through season-long access to implement more timely, precise crop input applications of crop protection products and nutrients with standard ground equipment.

"If growers have access to high-clearance equipment, they could get into the corn canopy all season long with short corn," Gillespie says. "That allows increased flexibility when applying fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides or fungicides and could help optimize the use of those products. The ability for precise application allows growers the potential to reduce their overall cost of production and maximize their return on investment. By using fewer inputs and making fewer trips across the field, farmers may reduce their impact on the environment."

Gillespie adds that the roots of Bayer’s short stature corn hybrids may also explore more soil volume than their taller predecessors. This trait could allow the plants to utilize more nutrients and soil moisture, improving overall resilience against abiotic stress. Potentially, it could reduce water requirements for these corn hybrids. Footnote 4

"We’re also currently investigating whether there’s a water-quality benefit and a reduced greenhouse gas footprint to the short stature corn system compared to the current corn system," Gillespie adds.

Finally, while these hybrids may be shorter, they don’t require a grower to purchase any specialized equipment. Gillespie says Bayer has bred the corn to set ears at least 24 inches above the ground.

"Short stature corn is just another example of Bayer’s leading corn portfolio, where we’re working to deliver innovative grower-focused solutions that help to potentially increase profitability, productivity and sustainability," Gillespie says. "We’re working to help farmers feed the planet, and we’re working to do that with less land and fewer resources."




This material may contain "forward-looking statements" based on current assumptions and forecasts made by Bayer management. Various known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors could lead to material differences between the actual future results, financial situation, development or performance of the company and the estimates given here. These factors include those discussed in Bayer’s public reports which are available on the Bayer website at The company assumes no liability whatsoever to update these forward-looking statements or to conform them to future events or developments.

This product is not currently available for commercial sale or commercial planting. Commercialization is dependent on multiple factors, including successful conclusion of the regulatory process. The information presented herein is provided for educational purposes only, and is not and shall not be construed as an offer to sell.

Bayer and Bayer Cross are registered trademarks of Bayer Group. ©2021 Bayer Group. All rights reserved.

Footnote 1

Based on Bayer internal trials 2018-202 across a range of environments (535 locations, 16 states), including numerous testing locations in the path of the 2020 Derecho event across Iowa (results submitted for journal publication).

Footnote 2

Stalk lodging: Annual yield losses in the U.S. range from 5% to 25%. Purdue University

Root lodging: Annual yield losses in the U.S. range from 2% to 31% depending on the corn growth stage. University of Wisconsin.

Greensnap: An Iowa State University study found greensnap drove corn yield losses at an average of 15% yield loss from 25% breakage, a 32% yield loss from 50% plant breakage, and a 53% yield loss from 75% plant breakage. Iowa State University

Footnote 3

Based on Bayer internal trials 2018-2020 across a range of environments (535 locations, 16 states), including numerous testing locations in the path of the 2020 Derecho event across Iowa (results submitted for journal publication).

Footnote 4

Based upon root observations from 2018-2020 Bayer internal trials both in greenhouse and limited field environments (5 locations, 2 states) comparing limited genetics of short stature vs standard height corn hybrids.




ALWAYS READ AND FOLLOW PESTICIDE LABEL DIRECTIONS. Bayer and Bayer Cross are registered trademarks of Bayer Group. ©2021 Bayer Group. All rights reserved.