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Growing grandpa’s corn, sort of

By Staff | Sep 19, 2014

DR. ALIX PAEZ, of Genetic Enterprises International, speaks to visitors at a Sept. 11 field day at his corn nursery in Luther about the non-GMO variety of corn he’s breeding for Northern Hemisphere climates. In the foreground is his GEI 411C, a blue corn hybrid for food production, that is rich in anthrocyamin, an antioxidant. “They are the blueberries of corn,” Paez said.

LUTHER – Want to grow corn like grandpa did? It’s still possible.

According to Dr. Alix Paez, a 44-year corn breeder, the breeding of non-GMO corn has not been static since genetically modified corn was first introduced.

“Non-GMO corn,” Paez told an audience of 40, “is the same corn your grandfathers and fathers, or maybe some of you, planted before GMOs were introduced.”

Paez and his wife, Mary Jane Paez, are the key people behind Genetic Enterprises International, with Iowa nurseries in Luther and Sheldahl, plus other winter nurseries in Florida.

Paez said he bred corn for 23 years for Pioneer and has been on his own for 21 years.

LOOKING OVER a modified Kinze toolbar, designed for planting the GEI corn nurseries at Luther are Jon Holtzman, left, a non-GMO corn breeder from Cambridge, Wis., and Ken Ziegler, of Ames, a retired Iowa State University popcorn breeder. They were among 40 people attending a non-GMO corn field day on Sept. 11, hosted by Genetic Enterprises International and sponsored by Practical Farmers of Iowa.

GEI breeds non-GMO corn for both temperate and tropical climates.

Cooperative farmers across the Corn Belt plant their products as seed corn, but in the nursery, the Paezes use a highly controlled, two-row planting system, then pollinating and harvesting by hand the developing inbreds and the hybrids.

It takes 10 years to develop a pure inbred variety, Mary Jane Paez said, and five years to bring a new hybrid to market.

The inbreds are the parent genetics for the hybrids.

Plants GEI corn

DR. ALIX PAEZ, of Genetic Enterprises International, points out characteristics of one of his white, non-GMO corn varieties used for tamales and corn chips.

John Gilbert, who manages a Hubbard-area dairy and pork operation, said he grows GEI’s high-lysine corn varieties to supplement his hog and dairy feeds.

He markets his pigs and dairy products through Niman Ranch.

“We never made the shift to modified row crops,” Gilbert said. “I like to keep up with what Alix is doing.

“I don’t pretend to know what the right varieties are, but I’m looking for what’s new that works better.”

He said most conventional corn, whether GMO or non-GMO, tends to be lower in protein content. The high-lysine variety increases the protein level of his feed.

“We tend to target the high-lysine for the hogs,” he said.

When asked if growing non-GMOs costs more to produce, Gilbert said there were higher input costs, but “seed costs are lower and I do my own spraying which keeps costs down.

“My theory is, if you focus on healthy genetics and keeping plants healthy, while following rotations, then bugs and pests are not that big of a problem.”

In the pipeline

Paez outlined new hybrids to be available for 2015.

Conventional:

A). GEI 9700 Luther, a 102 and 110 relative maturity designed for northern and central Corn Belt fields. It has heat tolerance and quick dry-down tendencies, “which are important now with the price of corn,” Paez said, “to keep drying costs down.”

B). GEI 9999 Luther, a medium maturity variety with tolerance to drought.

C). GEI 9998 Winterset, a 112-day variety, with disease and stress tolerance and able to perform in high plant populations.

For niche markets:

D). Modified protein, or high lysine, with 94 percent protein. “Here we have something kids can eat,” Paez said. “It’s used in countries to fight malnutrition.

“It produces as much protein per acre as soybeans.”

E). Modified starch, or high amylose white corn. “It’s a starch resistant to digestion,” Paez said. “It controls obesity, promotes a feeling of fullness, and lowers the glucose load for diabetics and helps prevent colon cancer.

“Commercially it’s used for diet food and high fiber products.”

F). Inka Maize from the Andes. Paez said this is a soft-textured corn with good flavor.

“It was served as sweet corn before there was sweet corn,” he said.

It took 10 years of development to introduce it into temperate climates.”

G). High antioxidant blue corn. “These are the blueberries of corn,” Paez said.

H). High carotene corn. This variety is vitamin A rich, Paez said. “It prevents blindness in children, promotes animal and human fertility and helps prevent macular degeneration.”

I). Silage corn. The hybrid has high dry matter, he said, plus a high ratio of grain to stover, high digestibility and high milk yield per acre.

GEI hybrids are suitable for conventional, organic or high-intensity farming practices, Paez said.

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