University Of Illinois to Develop Corn for Diverse Organic Systems

Decades of corn breeding efforts emphasizing yield have contributed to modern hybrids with shallower and less complex root systems than their predecessors. Because the breeding and selection of most modern hybrids has taken place in environments with high nutrient concentrations, optimal weed control, and soil moisture conditions, hybrids perform best under high input systems. With help from a new four-year, $1.5 million grant from USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture, a team of researchers at the University of Illinois plans to study overlooked attributes of corn roots. The new grant investigates maize roots for organic/regenerative systems and explores ways to manipulate the agroecosystem to optimize carbon storage, resource use efficiency, and productivity. The researchers will work with farmers to learn how they use information about crop and soil conditions to balance management goals. In addition to optimizing yield, the team will work to develop corn roots that respond to changing soil conditions that are driven by management, like rotation length and diversity.