From the Farm: Cross-pollination

Local News

How is popcorn scientifically different from conventional corn? 

There’s a big demand for organic commodities, including corn, but U.S. farmers generally shy away from organic corn production because of agronomic challenges.

University of Illinois corn breeder Martin Bohn says organic producers have many challenges, which include trying to keep their corn from being cross-pollinated by a neighbor’s commercial dent corn.

“If we are successful in developing this pollination barrier, then I think organic farmers also have the opportunity to plant corn much earlier,” Bohn says.

Currently, organic corn is planted very late in the spring to ensure commercial corn is finished pollinating before organic corn goes through its pollination cycle.  But how does Bohn plan to prevent cross-pollination?

“That’s an interesting question, but its not a new thing actually, because, popcorn, we are looking at popcorn, popcorn already has that pollination barrier,” he says. “Popcorn is not pollinated by conventional GMO corn because there is this barrier. And this is a genetic based barrier and they have certain genes that prevent that pollination. And we are trying to take these genes, put them into our organic corn that will then also produce that barrier.”

When that is successful, the US market will not have to import foreign-grown organic corn — which also may not really be organic to begin with. 

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