Zea mays subsp. mays
Origin: North Dakota
Improvement Status: Breeding population
Seeds per packet: ~75
Germination tested 1/2023: 98%
Life cycle: Annual
We first heard about Frank Kutka — now a professor at the College of Menominee Nation — nearly a decade ago when the organic seed community caught wind of his work developing what he called "Organic Ready" corn that would resist unwanted crossing with GMO corn and thus make it easier for organic corn seed producers to make a living ("Organic Ready" is a play on Monsanto's "RoundUp Ready" line of GMO crops created to resist frequent applications of the dangerous chemical herbicide glyphosate). Corn plants produce millions of grains of pollen and these can travel on the wind for many miles. If a single grain of GMO pollen comes into contact with a corn-silk on a plant intended for organic seed or food production, it will become the pollen parent of the resulting kernel (every silk is attached to a single kernel) and that poses a serious risk to the farmer because both the resulting crop and any successive generations grown from saved seed could test positive for GMO genes, threatening both the farmer's organic certification and the purity of their future crop.
Frank worked for many years with a trait called gametophytic incompatibility (controlled by a gene known as Ga1s), which was first identified in popcorn (the oldest type of domesticated corn) and is also present in teosinte (the ancestor of all modern corn). Plants with the Ga1s basically only accept pollen from other plants that also contain the gene. Popcorn growers have utilized varieties with this gene since the 1940s, because it prevents crossing with the much-more-prevalent dent corns or other field corns grown across the country (such crossing severely impacts popcorn quality in the first generation and prevents farmers from saving their own seed for future popcorn use).
We're really excited to be offering some of Frank's corn breeding work here for the first time in 2023. This 'Independence' population (which Frank considers a C0 or Cycle Zero base population) is a very early and colorful composite variety that carries the Ga1s trait to help reduce unwanted crossing with varieties that do not carry this trait. It is very colorful, and is mostly floury and 8-10 rowed. This population is the result of collaboration between Dave Christensen (the Montana corn grower who bred the famous 'Painted Mountain' corn) and Frank Kutka, and was developed funding from the Organic Farming Research Foundation.
We're excited to see what other "organic ready" varieties you all develop from this exciting corn!