Curious about testing non-GMO corn? Attend the U.S. Testing Network annual meeting – Dec. 11 in Chicago

For Release: November 26, 2014

AMES, Iowa — The U.S. Testing Network, an independent network of seed companies and corn breeders that  collaborates on testing non-GMO and organic corn hybrids, will hold its annual meeting on Thursday, Dec. 11, from 9-11 am, at the Wyndham Grand Chicago Riverfront Hotel.

The annual gathering is the capstone to the year’s research efforts, where participants share data, review locations and hybrids tested, and discuss plans for the coming year. The meeting is also an opportunity for companies and breeders interested in non-GMO and organic corn hybrids to network.

Other companies and breeders who want to become involved with the U.S Testing Network, or are curious about testing non-GMO corn, are invited and welcome to attend. The meeting is free, and will take place in the River Room at the Wyndham, located at 71 E Upper Wacker Drive in Chicago (a short walk from the Hyatt Regency Hotel, where the American Seed Trade Association’s 2014 conference and seed expo will be held).

The U.S. Testing Network is a member-based organization that collaborates to provide corn hybrids and locations for testing, as well as financial support. Practical Farmers of Iowa co-founded the USTN with a group of breeders and independent seed companies to provide a coordinated, rigorous testing service for conventional and organic corn, and to help rebuild the dwindling selection of non-GMO corn seed available in the marketplace.

“The goal of the USTN is to improve the quality and quantity of non-GMO corn hybrids available to farmers,” says Chris Wilbeck, who manages the USTN for Practical Farmers. “PFI coordinates the testing, providing a one-stop shop for those who want to test in many different regions. Members find the data credible and use it to supplement their own testing – and the USTN is one of the few places where they can rigorously test the viability of non-GMO and organic hybrids.”

The network has grown each year since it was launched, and now includes 28 members based in 12 states. In 2014, nearly 250 hybrids were tested at 42 locations across the Midwest and eastern U.S., spanning several growing regions. USTN members pay to enroll a hybrid for testing, selecting the region or regions of interest. The hybrid will then be automatically tested at all locations available for that region. As new members join the network, testing locations have the potential to expand.

“From the beginning, we have strongly supported the USTN,” says Mac Ehrhardt, president of Albert Lea Seed House, a USTN member. “There is a real need for a rigorous, independent testing network that supports the breeding and development of non-GMO hybrid seed corn.”

Before the USTN, corn breeders, researchers and retailers interested in non-GMO and organic corn hybrids had to rely on small data sets and isolated testing programs for conventional and organic corn. Unlike traited corn hybrids, which benefit from a well-established network of public university and private testing services that generate extensive data, non-GMO corn tests were geographically limited – a reality that made it hard to assess a hybrid’s performance across a range of environmental conditions. Companies also lacked an efficient means of communicating data with each other.

“Companies were testing non-GMO corn on their own, but there wasn’t a good system for communicating data and they didn’t have the ability to network face-to-face,” says Sarah Carlson, Midwest cover crops research coordinator for Practical Farmers who helped develop the USTN. “Now at least once a year, we have the ability to see each other face-to-face to exchange ideas and data.”

Because the U.S. Testing Network is an independent, membership-based organization, members dictate the test locations and zones, and have the freedom to decide on process changes. One of the USTN’s objectives is also to make corn hybrid testing affordable for companies of any size. John Hunt, of Beck’s Hybrids, says he appreciates that the USTN “offers an unbiased testing program that reaches across a broad geography which can be utilized by germplasm developers and retailers, regardless of their size and resources.”

Alix Paez, a corn breeder who develops non-GMO hybrids for his Iowa-based seed company Genetic Enterprises International, adds that since the USTN’s launch, companies and breeders now have access to more robust data that helps them decide whether to invest more time developing a corn hybrid for the marketplace.

“The USTN provides access to coordinated, professionally organized, multi-location yield data within maturity regions across the Corn Belt,” he says. “This helps breeders advance hybrids and make commercial hybrid decisions at a reasonable cost.“

For questions about the U.S. Testing Network, or to become a member, contact Chris Wilbeck at (515) 229-6988 or [email protected], or Sarah Carlson at (515) 232-5661 or [email protected]

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Founded in 1985, Practical Farmers of Iowa is an open, supportive and diverse organization of farmers and friends of farmers seeks to strengthen farms and communities through farmer-led investigation and information sharing. Farmers in our network produce corn, soybeans, beef cattle, hay, fruits and vegetables, and more. For additional information, call (515) 232-5661 or visit www.practicalfarmers.org.

Contact:

Chris Wilbeck | Practical Farmers of Iowa | (515) 229-6988 | [email protected]

Tamsyn Jones | Practical Farmers of Iowa | (515) 232-5661 | [email protected]