No, you won't be able to cut back on N rate this year because of genetic breakthroughs in corn. And it certainly won't be next year or the year after that. But not too far down the pike, Monsanto researchers believe it may be possible to plant hybrids that utilize nitrogen better than traditional hybrids. A transgenic trait they are now testing and developing will affect utilization of nitrogen.
Stephen Padgette, vice president of biotechnology for Monsanto, said this week that he was excited to announce that the company had moved the Nitrogen Utilization project from stage 1 to stage 2 in its product pipeline. Stage 2 is still a good ways off from commercial development, but it's a big step up from stage 1, where the idea is still primarily a concept.
Monsanto now has an event they can work with, and begin to explore what's possible with theis trait, he says. Eventually, the trait would have to go through phases 3 and 4. Phase 4 includes extensive testing in preparation for commercial release, plus submission of all regulatory documents needed for approval of the event.
It's still unclear exactly how farmers might benefit from this trait once it's incorporated into commercial corn hybrids, he notes. Right now, there are two possibilities. First, it might be possible for farmers to cut back on the rate of nitrogen per acre that they currently apply, and still achieve the same yields that they're used to harvesting now after applying higher N rates on the field.
Second, another possibility could be that if the rate is held constant, the new trait that allows the plant to utilize nitrogen available in the soil more efficiently might result in a yield boost. Yields from hybrids with the trait would be expected to yield better than hybrids without the N- utilization trait at the same rate of N applied to the field.
These questions, plus how or when the N is applied will affect how hybrids with this trait react remain to be answered, Padgette says. In fact, one of the goals in phase 2 now that they have an event, is to begin looking more closely at some of these questions. They want to pin down just how hybrids with this trait might benefit farmers who choose to grow them in the future.