OFRF has granted $11,800 to fund the fourth year of research by North Dakota plant breeder Dr. Frank Kutka focusing on the development of corn whose genome resists gene crossing from genetically modified corn strains. The first three years of research were funded in partnership with Clif Bar Family Foundation under their Seed Matters Funding Initiative.
Kutka, whose project is titled Developing “Organic-Ready” Maize Populations with Gametophytic Incompatibility, has been working to develop an “organic ready” line of corn that will maintain its non-GMO integrity. Corn is one of the top three genetically modified crops, alongside cotton and soy. In 2014, 89 percent of the corn acreage in the U.S. is planted in herbicide-tolerant transgenic corn.
This breeding work uses naturally occurring genes derived from popcorns and the ancient grain teosinte that create a screen against crossing with transgenic, or genetically modified (GMO) corn.
GMOs are prohibited in organic production under the USDA National Organic Program, making organic the original and best GMO-free label, but there are no regulations in place to protect farmers against accidental contamination from the pollen of transgenic corn. A recent survey of organic farmers from 17 states, predominantly in the Midwest, shows 67 percent planned to delay planting corn this year so their crops pollinate later than their neighbors’ GMO corn (one method farmers are using to prevent contamination), at an average cost of $16,000.
Early releases of open pollinated (OP) “Organic Ready” corn could be available later this year, with work continuing on back crossing and release of more populations and lines in 2015 and beyond. Seed of the resulting lines and populations will be released to the public along with short publications in the Maize Genetics Cooperation Newsletter in order to prevent their being patented, a situation that has already occurred, and which Kutka opposes. He says, “These seed releases are to encourage others to work with this trait and for organic farmers to grow as they wish.”
About the researcher: Frank Kutka has a Ph.D. in plant breeding and has been working on this project since 2001. In addition to this project, he serves as a coordinator for the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society Farm Breeding Club and has coordinated the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program in North and South Dakota. He works with organic corn breeders across the country to gain advice and knowledge, citing Walter Goldstein at the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute and Major Goodman at North Carolina State University, among others.