Sweet Corn Breeders Protect Yield in the Field
From germination to harvest, every step in sweet corn’s journey is important. Corn doesn’t determine yield just during pollination, instead early vegetative and post-reproductive stages are also key factors in creating high-yielding crops. Finding genetics that support season-long plant health and productivity is paramount to success.
“When a grower plants corn in the field, they want to know it will be a consistent stand,” said Ilene Jones, Syngenta Sweet Corn Breeding Team Lead. “They want a healthy plant, which might mean disease resistance, strong stalks, etc. They need a crop that matures at the same time, so harvest is consistent.
At Syngenta, breeders and researchers are passionate about creating sweet corn hybrids that withstand the challenges that come each season. The research and development process is stringent, which ensures only the best hybrids make the cut to grower fields.
“We know sweet corn has unique plant needs compared to field corn and other vegetables,” Jones said. “It needs to be something easy to pick on the cob, without too much extra material to work through the processing plant. You could have the perfect yielding variety, but if it doesn’t pick well, it’s not going to work.”
Whether growers are using sweet corn for fresh market or selling to processors, yield is king. Throughout the research processes, yield is a key consideration for any hybrid in the pipeline. In addition, breeders maintain kernel quality and plant uniformity to help growers have the best product at the end of the season.
It’s not an overnight process to achieve high-yielding, high-quality sweet corn hybrids. But, together with the information gathered at the Yield Accelerator facility, Syngenta can take an incredible amount of data and pair it with genomics technology to create hybrid advancements faster than historical breeding.
“I can take that data and take what it’s related to and how that performs in certain environments to create a list of predictions with 50% accuracy without testing,” Jones said. “The data we collect and our ability to use it is a huge step-change in breeding. I can predict parents for future breeding populations, the progeny of those populations. So, instead of testing 200 progeny I can narrow it down to 50, which expands how I can test these products in the end.”
All said, the data technology Syngenta breeders use, paired with their unique insights into processing facility trait needs means they’ve taken a 10-year breeding process and reduced it to six to seven years.
“That’s where you get genetic gain – the biggest component of the genetic gain equation (how we make better varieties), is time,” Jones added. “The gain we make by avoiding that loss of time or product cycling is exponential.”