Iowa State University scientists are leading an effort to improve efficiency and genetics in organic corn production, a fast-growing sector of the agricultural world since the beginning of 2020.
Thomas Lübberstedt, a professor of agronomy at Iowa State, leads a research team aiming to develop new lines of corn that take advantage of recent advancements in crop genetics that also can be grown according to organic standards. The research team recently received a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to apply genetic tools to the development of organic sweet corn and varieties of corn for specialty uses, such as for popcorn and tortillas.
A new federal grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) will support Iowa State scientists and collaborators as they develop improved seed corn tailored to the needs of the rapidly growing organic industry.
The lead investigator for the four-year, $1,996,500 grant is USDA Agricultural Research Service research geneticist Paul Scott, an affiliate professor of agronomy at Iowa State. Thomas Lübberstedt, the Frey Chair in Agronomy and Director of the Raymond F. Baker Center for Plant Breeding at Iowa State, will partner on the project, along with Martin Bohn from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Angela Linarez from the University of Puerto Rico.
Abby Kennon, senior in agronomy, has been involved in the ISU Good Earth Student Farm in many different aspects. She first found GESF through the student job board where she was looking for an opportunity that would allow her to work with organic fieldwork.
“Growing up in Iowa, it is pretty usual people assume that you want to work with row crops. On top of that, there can be a stigma around organic farming,” said Abby. “I used to have negative feelings for organic grown/raised products, but wanted to take the initiative to learn more.”
Organic farmers are in a tough spot when it comes to controlling weeds. Since conventional herbicides aren’t an option, many choose to use tillage — mechanically turning over the soil to upend weeds. However, tillage can take a toll on soil health and cause run-off. Increasingly, organic farmers are seeking better ways to control weeds while preserving soil health.
AMES, Iowa – Organic agriculture practices eschew many synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, putting pressure on crops that conventional farming circumvents. That means an organic farmer who doesn’t use herbicides, for instance, would value crop varieties better suited to withstand weeds.
Enter Thomas Lubberstedt, a professor of agronomy at Iowa State University. Lubberstedt and a team of ISU researchers recently received a four-year, $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to advance organic corn varieties. By the end of the project, the team aims to have identified elite varieties that will improve the performance of corn under organic growing conditions.
“Our main goal is to figure out whether new genetic mechanisms can benefit organic field and sweet corn varieties,” Lubberstedt said. “We want to develop traits that can do well under organic conditions.”