The journey of Short Stature Corn started in the Sinaloa region of Northwest Mexico. This is not only one of the highest yielding corn growing areas in the world, but also one of the most technically advanced. Growers capitalize on advances in genetics, irrigation, production systems, and equipment to advance and optimize corn production throughout the region.
Crops in the area face harsh weather, like damaging winds that result in significant yield loss due to root and late season stalk lodging. Over the years, our Breeding team has successfully developed and deployed new products to meet the needs of our customers in the region, but despite having achieved significant market share here, local growers were still highlighting the need for advances in late season standability. We knew we needed to find a different approach. This was the start of Short Stature Corn.
With any innovation of this magnitude, the journey to build something new came with some unexpected results and a number of challenges. You must be able to learn from these, build alternative approaches and focus on the long-term outcomes. Our local team did an amazing job working through these, managing skepticism (including my own), and continuing to modify technical plans based on new insights from every growing season.
The product concept for Short Stature Corn was straightforward:
- 40% shorter and sturdier corn
- Improved plant standability
- Similar yields to tall corn
- Greater access to fields with ground equipment
- More precise in-season inputs
However, the technical path to achieve this was anything but straightforward. Perhaps even more challenging was taking the risk of pivoting our product concepts for the region when what we had in the market was already successful. Our teams knew that designing the next generation of product with our customers was critical. Customer feedback, insights and production knowledge were the driving force behind the successful changes in the approach to Short Stature Corn.
Different Perspectives Yield Better Solutions
The first generation of experimental short corn hybrids were tested in our field testing network in 2012. Given that these were first generation experimental products, we did not expect yields at the same level as our tall hybrids, but we were disappointed with the lower than expected yield performance. We realized we had to think very differently about how to develop, test and deploy a short corn hybrid to market. To achieve this, we brought in fresh perspectives from our market development teams, the commercial business, our production sites, and others, to all look at how we bring the best short corn hybrid to the field.
In 2013, we conducted additional field trials. Bad weather struck near harvest – but in an odd reversal of fortune – this time it was to our benefit. The severe winds caused significant root lodging in conventional hybrids being tested alongside our Short Stature Corn. The benefits of the shorter stalk were clear. In some parts of the region, these were the only hybrids still standing. Farmers saw the benefits of its unique ability to better withstand weather extremes.
This gave us renewed focus to build on this success. We continued to collaborate across the Bayer organization to design Short Stature Corn into an integrated solution looking at row width spacing, prescriptive plant density and water use efficiency. Our Breeding teams continued to use our advanced breeding methods to further advance Short Stature Corn and saw the yield gap between short and tall corn continue to diminish. For three years, we worked on co-creating a tailored short corn hybrid solution to successfully launch to market. This collaborative journey led to the first Short Stature Corn product being deployed in 2020 under the brand name VITALA.
Strong Performance and Global Impact
Short Stature Corn is a giant leap forward in agriculture innovation. Extreme weather events across the globe have created unprecedented challenges for the planet and impacted our food security, while global demand for food continues to rise. The performance of Short Stature Corn has demonstrated several advantages to weathering the impact of climate change and natural disasters for specific regions. This includes making crops more resilient to extreme conditions, like high winds and drought, and provides a sustainable solution to help farmers grow more food, while using less resources.
The journey to this game-changing technology helped drive improvements in our approach to plant breeding too. We’re now working to deploy this short corn hybrid product concept globally. As part of this, we continue to partner with our farmer customers in different parts of the world to tailor the product concept to their needs. We are combining these insights with our advanced precision breeding technologies to continue our short corn journey and bring additional products to the market faster. Find details.
-By Mike Graham, Head of Plant Breeding, Crop Science at Bayer, Greater St. Louis