Importance of Corn Breeding Research

Corn is the most important crop in the U.S. Thanks to corn breeding research, corn productivity and quality have been maintained throughout the 20th century, with benefits from research totaling $260 billion. Plant breeding enhances the plant’s gene pool, develops plant varieties that have consistently high quality and yield across environments, and provides farmers with sustainable, low-cost varieties. Though the overwhelming majority of corn breeders in the U.S. are employed by private industry, the 6.5% of corn breeders in the public sector are expected to conduct long-term, high-risk research to advance knowledge for corn improvement as well as educate and train graduate students capable of conducting independent breeding programs. During the past 50 years, the number of corn breeders who work in the public sector, in particular with state agriculture experiment stations and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has declined dramatically. To improve corn, scientists, industry representatives, and farmers must work together to evaluate and enhance desirable corn traits, develop screening methods for pesticide resistance, and establish successful, cost-effective breeding techniques. Coordination and long-term research projects will help scientists advance corn breeding knowledge, set up standard tools and methods, and build a network for promoting awareness that facilitate long-term genetic improvement in corn.

NCCC-167 brought together researchers from public and private sectors to exchange information, coordinate research projects, and develop and integrate new tools and techniques for corn breeding. Together they set research priorities and determined which genetic traits are important, desirable, and should be selected in breeding programs. The team oversaw the national and international development and evaluation of all new public sector varieties of corn. As a result, the group was able to release 40 new varieties of corn that improve the gene pool. To raise awareness and participation, NCCC-167 scientists shared research results in peer-reviewed scientific journals and online at http://corn2.agron.iastate.edu/NCR167. The team also focused on education and training new breeders.

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