Short is beautiful: Ultra-high density planting and short stature corn show promise

How will a short stature corn benefit not only farmers in the highest corn-yielding state in Mexico, but also across the world?

A recent session of the Future of Farming Dialogue series, hosted by Bayer, focused on the VITALA short stature corn (SSC) system, bred with shorter stalks and a lower ear height, and is based on work by Norman Borlaug, whose methods enabled a short-stature wheat.

Launched in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico, (the same state famous for its tequila production), the VITALA corn system is a hybrid, short stature corn that measures one metre less than normal corn varieties, making it resistant to lodging. A key benefit of the hybrid is that its plant architecture allows for ultra-high density planting, around 110,000 corn seeds per hectare (about 45,000 seeds per acre) with no change to the amount of water or fertilizer needed.

Other agronomic features of the new hybrid have shown up in preliminary research in-the-field and under controlled conditions, including drought tolerance, advantages in photosynthesis where the corn stays greener for longer before harvest, as well as less leaf-rolling, and less wilting. The VITALA corn hybrid seems to have deeper roots, and since not as much biomass is being used above-ground, more energy can be put into those roots, according to Dr. Kelly Gillespie, manager of Bayer’s R&D division for corn and soy crop efficiency.

Winds can really whip across Sinaloa, and farmer Bernardo de la Vega, who was present during the virtual session, and has grown the variety on his own farm, says that resistance to lodging is the biggest benefit to his operation. He also mentioned that no modifications or new equipment were needed and that because of the height, spraying operations could take place later in the season by tractor and sprayer, instead of aerially.

Compared to high-yielding conventional hybrids in Sinaloa, which yield 13 to 18 tonnes per hectare, the VITALA hybrid yields 16 tonnes per hectare (6.47 tonnes per ac).

Bayer plans to continue trials in the U.S. and Europe to determine what hybrids and traits will work best in each country, and varieties are being tested now in the U.S.

Related: Hear this interview with Bob Reiter at around the 20 minute mark on short stature corn and other breeding developments at Bayer

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