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During the past 70 years, hybrid corn varieties have increased both yield and nitrogen use efficiency at nearly the same pace, largely by preserving leaf function during grain filling. The Purdue University study's findings offer strategies for corn breeders who want to continue to improve yields and nutrient efficiencies.
Decades of genetic improvements in corn have led to a fourfold increase in grain yield since the 1930s, before hybrids were widely used. But those yields also required increases in nitrogen application, and loss of excess nitrogen can damage water and air quality as well as wildlife.
Tony - Vyn - Corteva - Agriscience - Henry
Tony Vyn, the Corteva Agriscience Henry A. Wallace Chair in Crop Sciences and a professor in Purdue's Department of Agronomy, wanted to know how corn plants have historically utilized nitrogen—especially in reproductive growth—so that breeders can make informed decisions with future hybrids. He and his former doctoral student, Sarah Mueller, obtained seed and grew seven commercially important Pioneer hybrids, approximately one from each decade between 1946 and 2015. They were grown side by side under a range of nitrogen managements and analyzed at several stages of growth through maturity to understand nitrogen uptake and distribution throughout plant tissues.
"There's been a progressive improvement in nitrogen use efficiency in corn hybrids. That's coming about as yields have increased while modern hybrids were able to capture more and more of the fertilizer nitrogen applied," said Vyn, whose findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Years - Improvements - Percent
Over the last 70 years, genetic improvements have led to an 89 percent...
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