GENET archive


2-Plants: GMO blues set stage for white corn comeback

----------------------------- GENET-news -----------------------------

TITLE:  GMO blues set stage for white corn comeback
SOURCE: Country Guide, Canada, by Tom Button
        edited and sent by Agnet, Canada
DATE:   February 1, 2000

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GMO blues set stage for white corn comeback

In 1940 the U.S. grew 2 billion bushels of corn, and, according to 
this story, one billion was yellow and one billion was white. Now, 
thanks to the biotech controversy, white coxa is poised to re-emerge 
from obscurity. A research group that's investigating white corn 
potential was cited as saying it spells a great opportunity for 
Ontario corn growers, and that even without any anti-GMO windfall, 
white earns a food-quality premium that averages 50 [?] to 75 [?, ">" 
in original message, GENET] per bushel. Coupled with last summer's 
Kent County yields of about 180 bu./ac., that could make white 
contracts as valuable to corn growers as identity-preserved white-
hilum contracts are in the soybean business.

Art Schaafsma, a Ridgetown College researcher heading up the project, 
was quoted as saying, "All white hybrids are non-GMO." And kernel 
color is affected by pollen source. To produce a white kernel, a 
white silk has to be fertilized by a white pollen. If stray pollen 
drifts into a white corn field from a neighboring yellow corn crop - 
whether GMO or not any hybrid kernels will also be yellow. Schaafsma 
was quoted as saying, "We could kick them out with the same optical 
sorting equipment we use for beans. Customers could look at a sample 
and if it was pure white, they'd know they were buying pure non-GMO. 
It's a much, much better system than having to convince them with 
affidavits and DNA analysis."

The story says that Schaafsma worked with 7 southwest Ontario growers 
who planted 15 acres apiece in 1999. The goal was to produce enough 
white corn for milling trials in Frito Lay and King Milling plants, 
with the hope that Ontario-grown product could replace the 3.5 
million bushels of food-grade white corn that the province imports 
every year.

Those milling tests will be completed later this winter, and 
Schaafsma and Frito Lay sources are, the story adds, confident the 
results will be strong enough to warrant small-scale contracting this 
spring. The Kent and Essex County farmers grew 2 Pioneer hybrids, 
34P93 and 3443W, and a 3200-heat-unit Garst hybrid 8527. Strongest 
yields came from the 3300-heat-unit 34P93, which equaled yellow corns 
in the tests.

Schaafsma was further quoted as stressing, "let's be clear about 
this. It may look like corn. Walking through a field, in fact, you 
wouldn't be able to tell the difference. But it isn't corn. It's a 
different commodity." Ridgetown College economist Brian Doidge who is 
investigating the market potential of white corn, was cited as saying 
that chemically, the biggest difference is that white kernels lack 
the carotene pigment that gives yellow corn its color, and that in 
Africa, two-thirds of corn is white, but the U.S. and Canada switched 
to yellow decades ago because consumers here prefer the deeper color 
it gives to beef and pork fat, and egg yolks.

Major uses include Mexican-style foods such as tortillas, plus the 
booming market in related snack chips. Doidge was quoted as saying 
that, "What's got us really excited is the potential for a visually 
distinguishable non-GMO corn. Depending on how the GMO debate shakes 
out, the potential could be enormous." Nobody, Doidge adds, has a 
level of experience with identity-preserved production that can 
compete with Ontario's, thanks mainly to the province's success in 
food-grade soybean and edible-bean marketing.

Chuck Cunnyngham, Pioneer Hi-Bred research manager for mid-tolate 
season food-grade corn, was cited as saying major corn millers 
including Bunge Lauhoff are touting white corn for expansion because 
of its non-GMO status, but from a breeder's perspective, however, it 
will be difficult to ramp up white production, especially in northern-
tier states and Canada, adding, "We've been trying for the past 15 
years to get earlier white hybrids." In that time, breeders have cut 
the earliest commercial whites from 120 days down to 112, the 
maturity of 34P93. When they tried to make faster progress, the 
whites had poor color and milling quality, and typically lagged 10% 
to 15% behind yellows in yield.

The reason progress is so slow is that the white trait is recessive, 
so must be worked into both inbreds. To incorporate earlier genetics, 
breeders must therefore cross whites with early yellows, then breed 
out all the yellow characteristics while maintaining the white trait.

Cunnyngham and Schaafsma see another hurdle, too. White corns are 
heavy, with test weights in the 63 lb./bu. range, and they're 
extremely hard and almost as vitreous as durum wheat. Most millers 
tell growers which hybrids they'll accept. Generally, the harder the 
kernel, the more the millers like it. Where it's a headache for 
growers, though, is at the dryer. American contracts often specify 
that white hybrids be left to dry in the field until they reach 18% 
moisture, Cunnyngham points out. "You can't harvest them at 25% and 
put them through a dryer."

In Ontario Schaafsma found that out firsthand, as did the growers. 
Even when harvested at 22% and put through a dryer with a plenum 
temperature in the low 90s F, the 1999 crop was badly stress-cracked. 


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