Marcelo Carena, NDSU Department of Plant Sciences

Project activities focused on developing the next generation of short-season corn hybrids with reduced risk to farmers. We have worked toward increasing the genetic diversity from tropical and temperate regions while improving earliness, fast dry down, cold and drought tolerance, disease resistance, and ethanol and feedstock quality. Summer corn-breeding nurseries included tropical varieties from Colombia, Thailand, Mexico, and Cuba. Sample sizes reached 25,000 individuals per pedigree. Screening and harvesting was completed and selection has made corn one week earlier in one year. These varieties are in the process of adaptation to ND and NDSU is the sole genetic provider. They are the sources of new corn hybrids less vulnerable to pests, diseases, and climate changes.
Our cooperation with farmers and industry allowed a total screening of two million different corn lines and hybrids in multi-trait, multi-location trials along with commercial checks in 2015. Top experimental designs and statistical methods were utilized. Data from 15 traits were collected in most experiments. All 59 experiments were harvested across 55 locations and samples were collected for grain quality. After statistical analyses, NDSU experimental hybrids showed better performance than commercial checks, especially in marginal cold and drought-prone environments. This is a consequence of our program with controlled winter nursery conditions (no rain and extreme cold when wanted and needed during U.S. winters), to screen thousands of corn lines and hybrids for drought and cold tolerance. During this period, a Ph.D. student has assisted in the invention of BRACE, a new method to identify drought tolerant lines and hybrids through corn root screening without the need to dig and destroy plants. Top yielding genotypes were planted in southern and northern New Zealand corn nurseries for screening and seed production. As of today, a total of 3,700 rows are close to R1 corn stage near pollination time in the southern hemisphere to allow at least two seasons of corn per year. We expect seed back during March-April for planting in May. Additional data will be generated this winter for starch, protein, oil, and essential amino acids.

Most of 2015 NDSU crop releases were from the ND corn-breeding program during this period. As a consequence, a total of 13 new and unique corn products (NDSSR, NDS21-27, 57, 68, 69, and NDEarlyGEM32-34) are available to private and public breeding programs. They have outstanding characteristics in not only grain yield but also fast dry down, drought tolerance with strong root systems, disease resistance, and grain quality for ethanol and feedstock nutrition. NDSU corn lines ND2021 and ND2038 have made the silver pre-commercial trials in a Foundation Seed Company and NDSU corn non-GMO hybrids have made the top-yielding list in the U.S. National Testing Network. The program has acquired new tropical-derived products that have shown resistance to Goss’s Bacterial Wilt, which will be incorporated in our gene pool. Two small seed companies are producing NDSU inbred lines for hybrid production.

Our program has continued to lead a large network of public and private cooperators without the need to spend federal and state funds in costly academic labs becoming obsolete very quickly. The development of short-season tropical corn is serving as new sources of unique public x public non-GMO and public x private GMO hybrid combinations that supplement the narrow genetic diversity present in most industry hybrids. This gene pool will offer unique early maturing competitive genes and products not available in the northern U.S. industry and the corn genome sequences available.

Information has been delivered in publications (8 peer-review and 2 book chapters during this period), progress reports, and newsletters. Two Ph.D. students have graduated during this period generating excellent research that will be directly applied to farmers and industry. Major seed companies have already hired former students.