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Future Corn Plant Could Resemble Christmas Tree

Light dynamics indicate what perfect shape might be.

Tom Bechman 1, Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

July 20, 2009

3 Min Read

No one is saying that stalks will be as strong as Christmas tree trunks or that it will take seven or more years to grow a crop, but at least one plant breeder believes there might be a resemblance between the shape of Christmas trees and the shape of highly-productive corn plants in the future.

"The ideal shape would be that of a Christmas-tree type pattern, with leaves spreading out further below and more narrow at top," says Dave Nanda, president of Bird Hybrids, Tiffin, Ohio. Nanda occasionally writes articles for Indiana Prairie Farmer.

Some years ago, Nanda was the source for a story that talked about the potential for corn yields being 500 bushels per acre or more. No timeline was assigned to that prediction. One part of the theory that it was possible that plants of the future would be shaped differently than they are today.

"It's all about capturing as much sunlight as possible," Nanda says. "That's what drives photosynthesis and makes sugars for the plant. The plant then turns them into starches, protein and oils."

The beauty of the Christmas-tree shape is that narrower, upright leaves at the top of the plant would capture sunlight, then light remaining light filter down tot eh rest of the plant. Floppy, wider leaves at the base of the plant would capture remaining sunlight, Nanda observes. The idea is to capture as much sunlight as possible, with the least amount of sunlight hitting the ground as possible. If sunlight hits the ground, it's lost energy that the plant can't use in photosynthesis to make food for the plant, and eventually substances to fill corn kennels and boost yield, Nanda emphasizes.

This change won't come over night, he acknowledges. However, hybrids already vary in leaf type today. That means that genes for various types of genes are in the corn pool. Some hybrids today feature upright leaves. Others tend to have more floppy leaves. These are genetic characteristics. While they may not be selected for today, they could be in the future if breeders saw an advantage for doing so, he notes.

Its' just one of the changes that would be necessary to take corn yields to another level, Nanda believes. Population would also need to skyrocket, to perhaps 60 to 70,000 plants per acre. It's one reason he began testing inbred lines at 70,000 plants per acre to find promising new inbred material. Nanda began doing this a decade ago.

Some companies claim they will raise yields significantly by 2030 through adding traits. They might be well served to ask their breeders to consider focusing on some of the basic parts of the plant, and selecting for types that have an advantage.

About the Author(s)

Tom Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

Tom Bechman is an important cog in the Farm Progress machinery. In addition to serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer, Tom is nationally known for his coverage of Midwest agronomy, conservation, no-till farming, farm management, farm safety, high-tech farming and personal property tax relief. His byline appears monthly in many of the 18 state and regional farm magazines published by Farm Progress.

"I consider it my responsibility and opportunity as a farm magazine editor to supply useful information that will help today's farm families survive and thrive," the veteran editor says.

Tom graduated from Whiteland (Ind.) High School, earned his B.S. in animal science and agricultural education from Purdue University in 1975 and an M.S. in dairy nutrition two years later. He first joined the magazine as a field editor in 1981 after four years as a vocational agriculture teacher.

Tom enjoys interacting with farm families, university specialists and industry leaders, gathering and sifting through loads of information available in agriculture today. "Whenever I find a new idea or a new thought that could either improve someone's life or their income, I consider it a personal challenge to discover how to present it in the most useful form, " he says.

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