Roughly 88% of the 92.3 million corn acres farmers grew in 2011 were planted to hybrids containing at least one genetically modified organism (GMO). Most of the hybrids planted contain multiple or stacked traits.
But not every farmer wants to grow hybrids with traits. Plus, some market opportunities are available for non-traited corn, though pollen drift and the resulting fertilization from GMO hybrids make the production of genetically pure conventional hybrids increasingly difficult to achieve.
For a handful of farmers that concern will be eliminated next spring with the introduction of three non-traited corn hybrids from Blue River Hybrids, Kelley, Iowa.
The three hybrids contain gene-blocking technology, called GA1S, short for gametophytic incompatibility, which prevents cross pollination in corn, according to Maury Johnson, company president. The company is marketing the hybrids under the brand name PuraMaize. The hybrids are available this fall.
“Essentially, the pollen from GA1S outraces any foreign pollen from neighboring cornfields and travels down the silk to fertilize the PuraMaize hybrids first,” he explains.
Field research by Blue River Hybrids during the past four years shows that the PuraMaize corn hybrids block at least 99% of pollen from any traited or conventional hybrids growing in nearby fields.
Less than 2,000 total bags, split between the three PuraMaize hybrids, will be available for the 2012 season, Johnson reports. He says the hybrids, which fit the 101- to 114-day range of maturity, are priced at $210 per bag.
While quantities are limited, Johnson says the company plans to increase the seedstock as quickly as possible.
Blue River Hybrids markets primarily to farmers focused on the organic production of corn hybrids used for animal feed; a small amount also is use for human consumption.
Johnson says he anticipates farmers growing conventional, non-GMO corn hybrids will be interested in the new PuraMaize hybrids as well.
“Farmers who want to achieve a premium with their non-GMO corn and have to be under a certain contamination threshold will be interested in these products,” he says.
Researchers don’t look for non-GMO corn hybrids to be a huge arena of opportunity though, says Major Goodman, plant breeder at North Carolina State University.
Mike Kavanaugh agrees.
“I see it continuing at its current rate; I don’t see any slippage or growth one way or the other,” says Kavanaugh, Agronomy Manager for AgriGold.
Kavanaugh believes there is opportunity with conventional corn hybrids, but that farmers need to take a number of factors into consideration, including whether they plant continuous corn or are in rotation, their insect pressure, weed-control needs and yield.