Is Nitrogen-Fixing Corn the Future?

Nutrient-rich soils spoil corn—in fact, so much nitrogen is present in the soil, a function that would have made microbes fixate corn nitrogen has shut off. Ever since, farmers have applied ton after ton of nitrogen to the soil to ensure hybrids perform to their potential.

“Fertilizer is the lifeblood of which yields can be realized—it’s what makes discovering the genetic potential of the seed possible,” says Karsten Temme, co-founder and CEO of Pivot Bio. “At Pivot we’re trying to unlock the crops’ microbiome—we’re realizing there are microbes that are able to fixate nitrogen for corn, not just for soybeans.”

The company ran field tests on their new microbial product called On Technology in the Midwest in 2017. Yield results aren’t available yet so time will tell the true effect.

On Technology complements a farmer’s nutrient program—it doesn’t mean he can forego nitrogen application for the year.

Temme says the product will fill in nitrogen shortcomings throughout the season, which will be especially beneficial between nitrogen applications when the plant is at risk of running short. On Technology adds anywhere from 25 lb. to 50 lb. of nitrogen per acre.

The product can be applied as a seed treatment or in-furrow. Unlike rhizobia, which help soybeans fixate nitrogen, the microbials used in corn don’t create nodules. Instead the microbes surround the roots, grow with the roots and provide nitrogen at all parts of the root.

“We’re breaking new ground because any microbes that have the potential to fixate nitrogen in cereals just aren’t doing it in any meaningful way because of the nitrate in the soil now,” Temme explains. “Our technology interacts with those microbes and identifies, characterizes and fine-tunes microbes to realize their full potential—adjusting the genetic material naturally present in a microbe to increase nutrient uptake by the crop.”

The company says these microbials will not only fixate nitrogen but also increase yield by letting the crop take up more nitrogen when needed.

“Growers face a tough challenge because corn needs a lot of nutrients. The biggest problem is rate,” Temme says. “The rate that corn needs nitrogen is faster than the mineralization of organic matter. Supplementing with microbial nitrogen fixation can unlock a lot of yield potential.”

“Next summer is what will be the first version of our product—the ‘real’ commercial, generation one product, in the hands of growers and corporate partners,” Temme says. During field testing, the company will document what’s happening in the field, including visual differences in the plants and roots and yield differences.

Adding 25 lb. to 50 lb. of nitrogen per acre is substantial, but the company would like to see that number increase and expects the product to evolve in the future. Pivot Bio wants to partner with farmers to establish more trials in 2018 and plans to use On Technology soon in other crops such as wheat, sorghum and rice.

“We’re excited to connect with anyone who wants to develop something that helps transform nutrient management,” Temme says. “On Technology will be beneficial financially by reducing potential nitrogen loss and increasing efficiency—all while complementing good stewardship.”

Nitrogen Management is a Year-Round Commitment

When and how you apply nitrogen is a decision that revolves around efficiency and stewardship. “This is the time to sit down with your retailer, look at your cropping systems and see what will be best for you when it comes to spring versus fall-applied nitrogen,” says Tom Fry, sales manager of premium products with The Mosaic Company. “The decision is a function of multiple factors—cropping systems, typical fall and spring soil conditions, the market and logistics.”

What fall applications can offer in potentially lower prices and more favorable weather can be for naught. “Every study I see shows spring-applied nitrogen results in better yields than fall application,” says Darin Lickfeldt, Verdesian senior technical development manager. “You stand to lose nitrogen by volatilization, leaching or denitrification. Applying 100% of nitrogen in the fall is a risky business that relies on hope, not science.”

Nitrogen loss should be top of mind year-round, and the most sustainable way to apply nitrogen is in multiple passes.

“If you apply 150 lb. of nitrogen as urea and lose one-third of it with a spring application, let’s say that’s $20 per acre with current urea costs,” Lickfeldt says. “If it costs about $5 per acre to run a sidedress rig across of the field, you’re still money ahead to apply a second time versus save a trip.”

Take that same concept and compare it with your actual machinery costs—if it’s less than $20 per acre you’re money ahead to sidedress. You can also compare what it cost to run across the field a second time with a nitrogen additive that will keep it safer in the soil longer—if the additive is more than $20, sidedressing might again be the better option.

“We encourage farmers to start planning now with soil sampling to get a baseline on phosphorus and potassium,” Fry says.

However, mobile nutrients aren’t well represented in the zero to six test. Farmers considering split nitrogen applications with an in-season nitrogen application might want to consider taking a 2′ in-season test to more accurately assess available nitrogen to fine-tune application rates.”

To make sure you don’t apply too much lime, consider how in-season applications can cause temporary acid swings in pH.

Weigh your options now when considering nitrogen timing. The right or wrong choice is critical to nutrient availability and ultimately your success.

(By -By Sonja Begemann, source –

Read more

Corn Genetics Research Exposes Mechanism Behind Traits Becoming Silent

For more than a century, plant geneticists have been studying maize as a model system to understand the rules governing the inheritance of traits, and a team of researchers recently unveiled a previously unknown mechanism that triggers gene silencing in corn.
Gene silencing turns off genetic traits, an important consideration for plant breeders who depend on the faithful inheritance of traits from one generation to the next.
Gene silencing can cause genes to not express, losing those traits in the final cob. The pattern of pigmentation on the corn kernels and the cobs depends upon the position of the pericarp color 1 gene, and whether it is silenced.
Historically, the maize p1 gene has been used as a model by maize geneticists. Previous researchers did not know that two types of overlapping DNA methylation marks could modify, silence or activate this gene. The discovery adds to geneticists’ knowledge of different mechanisms of non-Mendelian inheritance, according to lead researcher Surinder Chopra, professor of maize genetics, College of Agricultural Sciences, Penn State.
In findings reported in PLOS One, Chopra’s team showed that silencing the corn pericarp color 1 gene — regulator of the kernels’ outer layer color and the cob color — can have two “overlapping” epigenetic components — RNA dependent DNA methylation (RdDM) and non-RNA dependent DNA methylation (non-RdDM).
In corn, the pericarp color 1 gene regulates the creation of brick-red flavonoid pigments, as seen on the left-hand side of this corn cob.
“DNA methylation, which is the addition of methyl groups to the DNA molecule, can change the activity of a DNA segment without changing the sequence,” he said. “DNA methylation typically acts to repress gene transcription, which is the first step of gene expression.”
In plant cells, when and at what level a gene is expressed is under tight control between transcription activation and suppression, Chopra explained. Small RNAs — molecules essential in regulation and expression of genes — can mediate methylation of DNA strands and shut down transcription activity, therefore playing a role in silencing inherited genes or transgenes introduced to produce desirable crop traits.
In corn, the pericarp color 1 gene regulates the accumulation of brick-red flavonoid pigments called phlobahpenes. The pattern of pigmentation on the corn kernel pericarp and “glumes” — membrane covering the cob — depends upon the expression of the pericarp color 1 gene. Some examples of these patterns are: white kernels, red cob; red kernels, red cob; variegated kernels, variegated cob; red kernels, white cob; and white kernels, white cob.
“Our study on maize pericarp color 1 gene has demonstrated the involvement of both small RNA-dependent and small RNA-independent mechanisms for gene suppression,” Chopra said. “This study reveals the additional layer of gene regulation by small RNAs, and improves our understanding of how gene expression is regulated specifically in one tissue but not in the other.”
Typically, when plant breeders are creating new types of cultivars, several traits they are breeding for may disappear or their expression gets reduced in the progeny, he said. “And that, we now know, is because of gene silencing.”
A better understanding of how gene-silencing mechanisms cause the disappearance of desired traits has long been needed, Chopra believes. It can be disastrous for a farmer to buy seeds that do not behave in the grow-out the way they were promised by the producer.
If one or more genes that are controlling a trait become silent due to overlapping DNA methylation, then that trait basically disappears from the population.
“That is a big setback for anyone trying to breed for traits such as high yield, which is regulated by several genes,” said Chopra. “If one or two of those genes that are essential for high yield become silent, then a reduction in the overall yield may result.”
Also involved in the research were two doctoral students advised by Chopra in Penn State’s Department of Plant Sciences: Po-Hao Wang, who is currently working as a scientist with Dow Agro Sciences, and Kameron Wittmeyer; Blake Meyers, with Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, St. Louis, Missouri; and Tzuu-fen Lee, a post-doctoral fellow from Meyers’ lab in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at Delaware Biotechnology Institute, University of Delaware, who is currently employed by Pioneer Hi Bred International Inc.
The National Science Foundation supported the research.
(Source -
Read more

When Is Best Date To Plant Corn

Roger Elmore, Iowa State University Extension corn agronomist, has compiled data from a multi-year study on date of planting for corn, based on results from six ISU research farm locations from around the state. He has used that data to determine the optimum corn planting dates for three regions in Iowa. The data were collected in 2006, 2007 and 2009.

The plots were planted at various dates and yield was calculated for each planting date. Then a date range was determined for the three regions in Iowa as indicated on a map.

Then a date range was determined for the three regions in Iowa on the map that would correlate to achieving 98% of maximum yields.

Planting corn in mid-April proved successful in this study

To achieve 98% of the corn yield potential, the data shows you should plant between April 12 and April 30 in northeast Iowa.  In northwest, west central, central, and east central Iowa the best time to plant is from April 15 to May 9. In the remainder of the state (the bottom three tiers of counties in Iowa) to reach the 98% yield window you need to plant corn April 17 to May 8.

What about crop insurance? You can’t plant before April 11?

There have been a few reports on the radio of a few Iowa farmers this week who planted a little corn prior to rains across the state on April 7. “In Iowa we don’t see a lot of people who violate the replant provision of their crop insurance policy,” says Steve Johnson, an ISU Extension farm management specialist.

If you have a farm level insurance product like Revenue Protection or Yield Protection, as long as you plant corn after April 11 in Iowa, and soybeans after April 21, you still have the ability to claim replant coverage, if you have to replant.

That doesn’t mean you can’t plant corn before April 11 or soybeans before April 21. But if you do, you may lose your crop insurance coverage for a replant. Check your policy and talk to your crop insurance agent to make sure you understand the possible consequences before planting that early.

Should you go ahead and plant corn early in cold soils?

Soil conditions can be the best ever during the first week of April. But the question is, should you plant corn early when the soil is still cold?  University of Illinois agronomist Emerson Nafziger says yes, but with a few cautions.

“We should not expect yields of corn planted in the first week of April to be higher than those of corn planted the third or fourth week of April,” he says. “We have had a few instances when corn planted in early April yielded less than corn planted later in April. This doesn’t happen often enough to rule out early planting, but it does mean the main reason to plant in early April is to get done by late April and avoid late-planting yield loss.”

Another caution is to plant early only when seedbed conditions stay favorable; if it rains or is still wet, growers should not try to get back in the fields too soon.

“It typically requires about 110 to 120 growing degree days (GDD) for corn to emerge,” he says. “With highs in the mid-60s and lows in the 40s to low 50s, we accumulate less than 10 GDD per day, so it can easily take two to three weeks for the crop to emerge.”

Typically, this isn’t a problem. But it is a long time, and problems can develop to hinder emergence. Early-planted corn should be watched carefully, especially when GDD accumulations pick up and the crop approaches emergence.

Low soil temperatures aren’t the major risk factor for corn

Low soil temperatures are not the major risk factor that planted corn faces. Instead, heavy rainfall soon after planting, with seeds or seedlings dying from lack of oxygen, is the major cause of replanting. Chances of this happening are no higher for early than for later planting, he says.

Planting into cooler soils may even improve chances for emergence following rainfall. Seeds are not triggered to germinate and emerge as rapidly in cool soils, so they often survive longer in cool, wet soils than in warm, wet soils. There is some risk of damage from frost after plants have emerged, but that’s fairly rare.

“While we hope we won’t need to replant, another advantage of very early planting is that if we do need to replant it, the replanting can be done early enough to avoid large penalties from late planting that you often incur when you have to replant corn,” adds Nafziger.

(Source –

Read more