Published Sep 26, 2014

Field Day Recap: Breeding Conventional & Specialty Corn Hybrids for Iowa

By Tomoko Ogawa

Around 40 people gathered together on a cold September morning for the “Breeding Conventional & Specialty Corn Hybrids for Iowa” field day in Luther.

Our field day hosts Alix and Mary Jane Paez started Genetic Enterprises International (GEI), a family business of developing non-GMO hybrid corns 23 years ago. GEI develops corn hybrids for temperate, subtropical and tropical zones.

Mary Jane and Alix started the field day with presentations, to introduce their business and to explain the ABCs of developing hybrids. The very first step starts with developing a breeding plan. It takes ten years to develop a pure inbred and five to ten years to develop a new hybrid. The Paezs work on pure seed line germplasm, breeding and development of inbreds and hybrids, and specialty corn breeding.

Alix talked to the audience about different varieties they have developed, both normal dent corn and specialty corns. A wide range of specialty corn varieties developed for specific uses were quite intriguing. Corn with high dietary fiber, high quality protein (also known as high lysine corn), high carotene, and high antioxidants; all look quite different by appearances, and also have different health benefit targets. They have worked with ISU on various projects relating to improving the nutritional value of corn.

Following the presentations inside the shed, field day attendees eagerly ventured out to the field, with a sheet of paper in their hand — which consisted of the list of Hybrids — to make observation notes and to evaluate by giving scores to the different varieties that we had just learned about. The field we looked at was planted on May 8th. It’s surrounded by beans and has a perfect isolation.

After learning about the corn breeding program and examining different corn varieties in the field, it was time for us to taste them! The lunch included two different kinds of tamales prepared by Tamale’s Industry in Des Moines using GEI’s specialty corns. The first tamale was made with GEI’s 411C, with pork filling. GEI 411C is their new product line which is high in antioxidants and has a deep blue, almost black color with a reddish cast. The other tamale was made with GEI’s Inka Maiz™ (yellow corn) with chickens filling. We also tasted blue corn muffins made with GEI 411C corn flour. High lysine corn tortilla chips for the lunch were from Whole Grain Milling Co. — the owners of Whole Grain Milling Co., Doug and Lin Hilgendorf grow the high lysine corn from GEI and other varieties in Minnesota and were also at the field day. The field day ended after plenty of opportunities to learn, observe and eat the corn products of Alix and Mary Jane, in addition to networking  among farmers, researchers and specialty grain buyers.