Bigger is better, but shorter is smarter

by Courtney Llewellyn

The next big thing in crop growing may actually be smaller. In presenting “Short Stature Corn: The Next Evolution of Corn Production That Will P.A.Y.” at the 2022 Commodity Classic, Denise Bouvrette, Ph.D., the North America Corn Project manager and launch lead with Bayer Crop Science, noted that short stature corn “could be a game-changing revolution for growers.”

Traditional corn hybrids grown today reach heights between nine and 12 feet; the target plant height for short stature corn hybrids will be seven feet or less. According to Bouvrette, the lower height will allow for more flexible timing and the ability to use ground application of other crop inputs, such as nitrogen, fungicides and insecticides, throughout the growing season. It also shows improved standability with shorter plant architecture for when severe weather events roll through (in trials, withstanding wind gusts over 50 mph), and it also allows farmers to explore higher planting densities.

“I think short stature hybrids are super cool,” Bouvrette admitted. In initial trials, the short stature corn’s root systems have the potential to explore more soil volume faster than the taller varieties, which could lead to increased stress tolerance, better access to water and nutrients and greater yield stability.

Speaking of yield, Bouvrette said it is yielding the same as taller hybrids – just with lesser inputs. Ear size is similar to that of current corn hybrids as well. Short stature corn could P.A.Y. through the Protection, Access and Yield potential it’s promoting.

Three Iowa corn producers talked about the positives of the shorter hybrids, including one who was the NCGA yield contest winner in 2021. They were all very interested in seeing where short stature corn can go. Another noted that if the tar spot issue doesn’t pass, and farmers need multiple fungicide passes, this new variety could be a helpful thing.

Bouvrette said the whole purpose of breeding this new variety is a reduction in risks and an increased opportunity to do things differently.

Bayer currently has several different approaches in plant pipeline for short stature corn. Breeding is in phase 4 development; biotechnology, phase 3; and genome editing is still in the discovery. It’s all part of the larger Bayer Smart Corn System, which offers seed, digital advice and tailored agronomic recommendations. Bouvrette said they’re still testing everything, developing and refining the system. They aim to launch the system in 2024 – and it’s currently in trials.

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