FFAR Grant Maps Corn Drought Tolerance Genes

WASHINGTON (September 11, 2019) –The majority of America’s corn farmers rely on seasonal rainfall to water crops, yet extreme weather and drought present a growing challenge to the corn industry. The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) is awarding an $1.8 million grant through the Crops of the Future Collaborative to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to identify genetic markers in corn associated with drought tolerance and thereby accelerate the breeding of drought-resistant varieties. FFAR provided $900,000 and Inari, KWS and Syngenta contributed the matching funds for this three-year project through their participation in Crops of the Future.

“The future of farming means growing more food with fewer resources,” said FFAR Executive Director Sally Rockey. “Increased climate instability will continue shrinking aquifers and exacerbating droughts. FFAR is investing in this project to produce corn varieties designed to thrive with limited water. This project, supported through the FFAR Crops of the Future collaborative, ultimately helps farmers prepare for impending climate variability.”

Drought is an incredibly complex stress and one that reduces corn crop production. If corn plants receive insufficient water when plants are young, their root systems become underdeveloped. The smaller roots lead to nutrient deficiency. Drought stress during the flowering and grain-production periods can lead to reduced kernel size and lower crop yield. The 2012 drought saw corn production fall by 4 billion bushels from pre-drought estimates, leading to a loss of approximately $22 billion for America’s farmers.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are focusing on drought stress during corn’s flowering and grain-growing lifecycle stages. By identifying the genes that together affect drought tolerance, the team can accelerate the development of drought-tolerant corn varieties.

“Nearly four million acres of corn are grown in Wisconsin, making it an important crop in our local economy,” says Dean Kate VandenBosch of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at UW–Madison. “I am pleased that we can contribute our expertise in corn genetics to understand the fundamental biological mechanisms that make the plant more resilient. This will lead to more efficient varieties benefiting farmers, consumers and the ecosystem.”

The Crops of the Future Collaborative convenes industry participants to collectively fund and execute research to fill knowledge gaps common across the industry. With knowledge of these breeding tools, the consortia participants can create corn varieties better suited to a changing climate.

“Collaborating in this way to map Corn Drought Tolerance Genes is crucial to enabling crops to ‘keep up’ with environmental stressors and climate change,” said Trevor Hohls, Syngenta global head of seeds development. “Syngenta is excited to partner with FFAR and the academic community to bring direct benefit to farmers and help grow our scientific talent base.”

“As we look to the crops of the future, our farmers and agricultural systems will continue to be dealing with greater challenges such as climate instability and water availability. At KWS, we look beyond short-term success and focus on the development of sustainable and visionary solutions that increase food security and ensure a healthy world for future generations. This project is well aligned with our mission and we are pleased to be part of this public-private collaborative effort,” said Dr. Derek Bartlem, Managing Director/Head of Research USA for KWS.

“Collaborations drive the change that addresses critical problems we face globally in agriculture,” said Mark Stowers, Chief Operations Officer and President of North America at Inari. “Discovering the genetics behind drought tolerance will be important in the work we do at Inari to address to not only the needs of growers, but those of the planet as well.”

This project is an expansion of a 2018 grant FFAR awarded to the University of Wisconsin. The $100,000 seed grant, co-funded by KWS and Syngenta, established a research nursery to launch this larger effort.

###

About the Crops of the Future Collaborative

The Crops of the Future Collaborative is a public-private, multi-participant consortium convened by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. The Collaborative brings together companies and leading research organizations to accelerate the development of new crop varieties that address challenges in food and agriculture. The Collaborative will leverage the knowledge, capabilities, and financial resources of participants to expand the scientific understanding of characteristics giving rise to complex traits that crops will need to adapt to changing environments.

CONTACT: Sarah Goldberg, 202-624-0704, sgoldberg@foundationfar.org

About KWS*

KWS is one of the world’s leading plant breeding companies. In the fiscal year 2018/19 more than 5,000 employees in 70 countries generated net sales of EUR 1,068 million and earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) of EUR 133 million. A company with a tradition of family ownership, KWS has operated independently for more than 160 years. It focuses on plant breeding and the production and sale of seed for corn, sugarbeet, cereals, rapeseed and sunflowers and vegetables. KWS uses leading-edge plant breeding methods to increase farmers’ yields and to improve resistance to diseases, pests and abiotic stress. To that end, the company invested approximately EUR 200 million last fiscal year in research and development.

*All indications excluding the results from the companies accounted for using the equity method AGRELIANT GENETICS LLC., AGRELIANT GENETICS INC. and KENFENG – KWS SEEDS CO., LTD.

For more information: www.kws.com. Follow us on Twitter® at https://twitter.com/KWS_Group.

Overcoming Water Scarcity

Overcoming Water Scarcity

Continue

Agriculture uses 70 percent of the world’s accessible freshwater. FFAR’s 2016-2018 Overcoming Water Scarcity Challenge Area addressed water use efficiency in agriculture by developing water conservation and reuse technologies, improving crop and livestock breeds, creating improved agronomic practices, increasing the social and economic tractability of conservation practices and enhancing the efficacy of Extension services.

FFAR’s Sustainable Water Management Challenge Area builds on earlier work to increase water availability and water efficiency for agricultural use, reduces agricultural water pollution and develops water reuse technologies.

Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms

Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms

Continue

FFAR’s 2016-2018 Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms Challenge Area increased soil health by building knowledge, fueling innovation, and enabling adoption of existing or new innovative practices that improve soil health.

The Soil Health Challenge Area advances existing research and identifies linkages between farm productivity and soil health, while also addressing barriers to the adoption of soil health practices.

Protein Challenge

Protein Challenge

Continue

FFAR’s 2016-2018 Protein Challenge Area sought to improve the environmental, economic and social sustainability of diverse proteins.

The Advance Animal Systems challenge area supports sustainable animal production through environmentally sound productions practices and advancement in animal health and welfare. Additionally, the Next Generation Crops Challenge Area develops non-traditional crops, including plant-based proteins, and creates new economic opportunities for conventional crops to increase future crop diversity and farm profitability.

Food Waste and Loss

Food Waste and Loss

Continue

About 40 percent of food in the US, or $161 billion each year, is lost or wasted. FFAR’s 2016-2018 Food and Waste Loss Challenge Area addressed the social, economic and environmental impacts from food waste and loss through research that developed of novel uses for agricultural waste, improved storage and distribution, supported tracking and monitoring, minimized spoilage through pre- and post-harvest innovations and changed behaviors to reduce food waste

FFAR’s current Health-Agriculture Nexus Challenge Area addresses food waste and loss and supports innovative, systems-level approaches to reduce food and nutritional insecurity and improve human health in the US and globally.

Forging the Innovation Pathway to Sustainability

Continue

Supporting innovation is necessary for sustainable results. Over the last 50 years, farmers have tripled global food production thanks to agricultural innovations. Forging the Innovation Pathway to Sustainability was a 2016-2018 Challenge Area that focused on understanding the barriers and processes that prevented the adoption of technology and research results into sustainable practices.

Urban Food Systems

Urban Food Systems

Continue

The 2016-2018 Urban Food Systems Challenge Area addressed feeding urban populations through urban and peri-urban agriculture and augmenting the capabilities of our current food system.

The Urban Food Systems Challenge Area continues this work and enhances our ability to feed urban populations.

Making My Plate Your Plate

Continue

FFAR’s 2016-2018 Making My Plate Your Plate Challenge Area focused on helping Americans meet the USDA 2015 Dietary Guideline recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption, including research to both produce and provide access to nutritious fruits and vegetables.

FFAR’s current Health-Agriculture Nexus Challenge Area supports innovative, systems-level approaches to reduce food and nutritional insecurity and improve human health in the US and globally.