Plant researchers at Iowa State University are working together with counterparts at the University of Florida, Wisconsin and Washington State University to improve the breeding of a summer favorite.
ISU agronomy professor Thomas Lubberstedt has worked on improving field corn varieties and says sweet corn research has some new variables.”You’re very much focused on eating quality traits besides the general yield and resistance and stress tolerance traits — so it’s adding to the complexity of finding the best varieties,” Lubberstedt explains.
Roswell Garst developed the first hybrid field corn in Iowa back in the 1930’s and Lubberstedt says there have been years of developments and thousands of dollars spent on improving field corn. Sweet corn has not gotten as much attention in part because its production is small compared to the millions of bushels of field corn grown each year. “Field corn has a much bigger market because it has a lot of acreage, which means it’s (sweet corn) not that big of a business, which means the breeding programs involved in sweet corn breeding are usually smaller — the budget is smaller than field corn — that makes it a little more difficult to deal with more traits,” according to Lubberstedt.
He says finding the right tasting sweet corn varieties is still done in an old-fashioned way. “Currently that still has to be done by persons ultimately who do bite tests or who really taste it. That is part of this project to find methods that can quantify taste ultimately, and at least prequalify the most promising candidates,” Lubberstedt says.
Lubberstedt’s research is trying to use technology from field corn that more quickly produces inbred lines of corn that create the hybrid varieties. It is hoped they can incorporate the good tasting qualities needed for sweet corn into those quick breeding methods. “There are groups in the project focusing on trying to replace taste panels by biochemical methods that can be applied instead and help to predict which of those plants have likely the best tastes that correlates what has been found in test panels,” Lubberstedt says.
Those chemical methods could then be used to incorporate the taste into the faster breeding process. The researchers are sharing a four-year $7.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Specialty Crop Research Initiative.