Lancaster farming. (Lancaster, Pa., etc.) 1955-current, September 13, 1980, Image 49

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    Corn ear design speeds grain drydown
“engineering” may soon be
a major factor in farmers’
fuel bills.
Already, some hybrids,
because of fewer husks for
example, dry down more
quickly in the field naturally
than do other hybrids, say
seed com researchers at
DeKalb Agßesearch, Inc.
Quicker drydown means
lower moisture gram when it
comes from the field, and
probably shorter artificial
drying time.
Modem com hybrids were
developed primarily in an
age when fossil fuels were
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abundant and cheap. In an
effort to meet the world’s
rapidly expanding food
needs, seed com researchers
bred com hybrids that use
more of the growing season
sometimes adding gram
weight right up to frost.
More usable gram is
produced than if plants were
to shut off the growing
process early, so that the
grain could dry down
naturally in the field during
warm late-summer days.
The drawback, at lsast for
those farmers who store dry
gram, is that gram has
required artificial drying to
bring' it down to a moisture
content low enough to keep
in storage. Naturally, far
mers who utilize high
moisture com don’t share
this concern.
High moisture gram was
no problem when propane
gas, an oil derivative, was
readily available and cheap.
But today’s farmers are
feeling the pinch of higher
fuel pnces and short sup
plies, as are all consumers.
According to Bill Crum,
associate director of tem
perate com breeding, many
of the com ear charac
teristics that help determine
how rapidly drydown takes
place can be manipulated
genetically in the process of
breeding new hybrids. These
include husk cover, moisture
content at physiological
maturity, kernel size, and
kernel osmotic potential
(water attracting force).
Research is under way to
alter these hybrid charac
teristics so that they are
more suited to an energy
short world.
Wayne Fowler, the firm’s
agronomic education
director, feels one of the
challenges facing the seed
industry is to familiarize
corn growers with the
characteristics of drydown
as opposed to early “die
down”, which is simply com
plants dying before they
have a chance to produce all
the grain weight they’re
capable of producmg.
Technically, drydown is
the term used to describe the
rate at which the ear loses
moisture after the plant has
reached physiological
maturity. Weather factors
such as temperature,
humidity and wind influence
the rate of drydown along
with the characteristics of
the hybrid.
The number of husks, their
thickness, how tightly they
seal off the tip of the ear, and
the degree to which they
open at maturity all in
fluence drydown rate. In the
process of altering these
characteristics genetically,
com breeders must keep in
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Ron Castleberry displays ears and their husks from two different hybrids. The
top ear had seven husks and the bottom ear had 10. Ears represented by the top
hybrid have from seven to nine husks, while the hybrid represented at the
bottom have from nine to 11.
mind that the husk cover still
should provide protection for
the ear.
Crum points out the
number of husk leaves
varies considerably in
today’s com hybrids.
For example, one hybrid
can have as few as seven
husk leaves, while another
may have as high as 14.
Square inches of husk can
double from one hybrid to
“Husks are a big factor in
drydown rate that we can
manipulate in
breeding,” says Crum
Low gram-moisture
Lancaster Farming, Saturday, September 13,1980—89
content at physiological
maturity is another
desirable trait, he adds.
“The range of moistun
percentages between
hybrids is from the low to the
mid 30’s. We probably can’t
go much below 30 percent.
We’ve seen some helpful
differences in our tests. ”
The researcher also feels
that kernel size, an alterable
trait, affects drydown rate.
The important question is
whether or not kernel size
can be decreased while high
yield is maintained, he says.
The permeability of the
seed coat to water and
osmotic potential (water
attracting force) inside the
kernel may also be im
portant in drydown rate,
says Crum, and it may be
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possible to alter these fac
tors genetically.
Another factor being
considered is altering plants
genetically is changing the
ratio of tune required for a
com plant to complete the
parts of its growth cycle.
Usually 60 percent of the
time is used to develop the
plant and the remaining 40
percent to fill the ear.
‘ ‘ Altering this ratio may help
us to improve early
drydown,” he says.
Ron Castleberry, com
physiologist at DeKalb, says
the breeding job is achieving
early drydown is complex.
“For example, while
kernel black layer formation
at the base of the kernel at
maturity definitely shuts off
the movement of car
bohydrates into the com
kernel, it is not known what
effect black layer formation
has on water movement
through the kernel,” he
■' m
“Early ‘die-down’ is when
a plant quits filling the
kernels before it would
normally mature,” explains
Dave Smith, plant
pathologist. “Put simply,
yield is reduced.”
Yield reduction takes
place in two ways, points out
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