NCCC167: Corn Breeding Research

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Active

NCCC167: Corn Breeding Research

Duration: 10/01/2016 to 09/30/2021

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Statement of Issues and Justification

The need, as indicated by stakeholders: Plant breeding research is multifaceted and meets the needs of a diversity of stakeholders. Other researchers in universities or companies expect plant breeding researchers to deliver basic research in plant genetics and breeding tools. The public indicates a need for research impacting the sustainability of agricultural production practices, especially related to global climate change. Companies involved in plant breeding depend on public corn breeders for training new students in fundamental principles of plant breeding and genetics. Small seed companies and producers indicate a need for developing publicly available varieties, especially for small markets that are not currently served by the large corporations in the private sector. Funding agencies expect public corn breeders to carry out translational research to apply genome sequence and functional genomics information.

The importance of the work, and the consequences if it is not done: The changing climate presents challenges to corn production in the form of altered water distribution, increased temperatures, increased salinity and new pests and diseases. At the same time the increasing global population creates an increasing demand for food and fuel. Corn breeding research is required to meet this increasing demand while minimizing negative impacts on the environment. Publically available varieties contribute to the development of new markets.
The technical feasibility of the research: The technical feasibility of this project is high. Established methods are being applied in new, creative ways. The research addressed requires a high degree of cooperation. Challenges such as climate change impact the work, but similar challenges of smaller scale have been addressed successfully by members of the group. New technologies such as genome sequencing provide opportunities to increase the rate of progress and expand the impact of the work.

The advantages of doing the work as a multi-state effort: Breeding research requires testing varieties in a wide range of environmental conditions. A coordinated multistate effort allows this group to test varieties in locations with different conditions than are found in a single location. This allows researchers to carry out field studies with a greater scope than would be possible in any single-state effort. The plant breeding research annual meeting provides a forum for scientists and stakeholders in the private and public sectors to share ideas and most recent research progress and to establish new collaborative research projects.

The likely impacts from successfully completing the work: This work will have broad impact because corn is the foundation of the US food supply and it plays a significant role in other industries. It contributes to meat, dairy and egg production as a component of animal feed. The grain contributes to some food products directly and is processed to contribute to many more in the form of starch, sweeteners and oil. In addition to food, corn also has many industrial uses including biofuels. The impacts of this work will be an increase in the amount and quality of corn produced on a given area of land, reducing the cost of food and fuel while increasing their quality. In addition, less land will be required for agricultural production, reducing the impact of agriculture on the environment. These impacts will be brought about by a well trained workforce with access to the latest research results, both products of corn breeding research.


  1. Identify new opportunities to carry out cooperative research with regional or national scope and coordinate existing cooperative corn breeding research projects.
  2. Train people to carry out corn breeding research.
  3. Develop and make available corn breeding tools such as databases, software and methods.
  4. Communicate research results to committee members and stakeholders.
  5. Promote interaction between the corn breeding research community and seed companies, commodity groups, Multistate Research Committees, the maize genetics community and other stakeholders.

Procedures and Activities

The main activity of this committee is our annual meeting, which is usually held in conjunction with a larger meeting that is widely attended by committee members. Approximately every other year we hold our meeting in conjunction with the Maize Genetics Conference. Other meetings we will consider associating with are the American Seed Trade Corn and Soybean Expo, the National Association of Plant Breeders annual meeting and the Illinois Corn Breeders School. By varying the meeting with which we associate, we attract different groups of attendees and facilitate our members’ attendance at a variety of meetings. In addition, we periodically hold our meeting jointly with other Multistate Research Committees, most recently with NEC-29, the Northeastern Corn Improvement Committee. Key stakeholders such as representatives of seed companies and commodity groups as well as national program leaders from federal agencies are invited to facilitate interactions between our committee and these groups. Student attendance is encouraged by offering a discounted registration rate for student attendees.

Our meeting is organized into three parts: A scientific meeting, a strategic planning session and a business meeting. The Scientific meeting includes presentations by students advised by committee members, providing an important training opportunity for the students as well as an opportunity for committee members and stakeholders to be updated on current research results. In the strategic planning sessions, the committee identifies emerging issues that impact the group and new opportunities to carry our joint research projects with other committee members. The purpose of the business meeting to ensure reporting requirements are met and continuity of the committee is maintained according to established procedures. This includes planning the venue and organization of the next meeting. Committee members report on activities during this meeting.

In addition to our annual meeting, we maintain a mailing list that is frequently used for posting information relevant to our group such as position announcements and meeting information.

The committee coordinates shared yield trial efforts. This provides committee members an opportunity to evaluate their germplasm in more environments than would be possible otherwise and to compare their germplasm to other entries in the test. Due to the broad geographical range of the participating institutions, these yield trials are organized by maturity zones. Participating committee members share their results at the annual meeting.

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • Development and coordination of externally funded multistate research projects. At least three such projects are currently underway. The Genomes to Fields project is a direct product of our committee meetings. This project is funded by the Iowa Corn Growers Association and involves all of our member institutions. It seeks to understand and predict genotype by environment interactions. Second, the maize ATLAS project is funded by USDA-NIFA and involves six institutions that seek to better understand germplasm adaptation. Third, a group of five institutions that are carrying out a USDA NIFA-funded project aimed at producing corn for organic production systems. The NCCC167 committee meeting will provide a venue for these projects to report and obtain feedback from an audience of their corn breeding peers.
  • Identification of key topics that impact corn breeding and development of white papers on these topics. These papers will focus the attention of funding agencies and other stakeholders on the topic and facilitate the coordination of research to address the topic.
  • Research results will be reported in peer-reviewed scientific journals and other publications, in presentations at scientific meetings and in the popular press. Results will be disseminated as broadly as possible by using open-access publishing and posting recordings of presentations on the internet when possible.
  • Students will be provided with the basic knowledge required to carry out plant breeding and trained in specific methods that are relevant to modern plant breeding operations.
  • Taken together, our activities result in public germplasm with improved agronomic performance and quality. Incorporation of novel germplasm broadens the genetic base of the public germplasm which improves breeders’ ability to respond to climate change and emerging pests and diseases.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan

Training future plant breeders is a major concern of our stakeholders in the plant breeding industry. About 90% of corn breeders work in the crop improvement industry and the demand for our students in this industry is tremendous. The majority of them have job offers well in advance of receiving their degrees. In addition, many committee members are involved in federally funded research projects with an education component. Thus, while the focus of the committee is research, education is a very prominent activity.

Undergraduate students will be educated in internship-like experiences. These students will be paid on an hourly basis or carry out corn breeding projects for independent research credit. The focus at this level is on the technical aspects of corn breeding, with student projects typically contributing a relatively small part of larger project.

Graduate students will carry out much of the corn breeding research. They will gain instruction in the basic disciplines required to plan and carry out experiments in corn breeding as well as the practical aspects of plant breeding research. Projects will be independent but are frequently closely related to those of other graduate students or cooperators.  

Post-doctoral researchers will be trained in complex projects that require advanced knowledge of disciplines utilized in corn breeding research. These projects may have a limited scope to accommodate the short time-frame of post-doctoral research positions. Some post-docs will have roles in coordinating breeding projects.

Committee members also educate the public by disseminating products of our research to corn producers at field days and to scientific colleagues through publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals and presentations at scientific meetings. Occasional publications in the popular press, trade journals and webinars allow dissemination of results to broader audiences.

Most of the participating institutions have programs to encourage recruitment of students from underserved communities and our committee members take advantage of these programs when recruiting students. One of our committee members is a faculty member at a Hispanic Serving Institution. Historically, maize has tremendous cultural significance, especially among the indigenous populations of the Americas. Several of our committee members work with organizations committed to preserving and characterizing maize varieties developed and used by indigenous populations that are traditionally under served by scientific activities. The result is increased support for cultural practices involving maize while providing maize breeders with novel sources of germplasm for their breeding programs.


The recommended Standard Governance for multistate research activities include the election of a Chair, a Chair-elect, and a Secretary. All officers are to be elected for at least two-year terms to provide continuity. Administrative guidance will be provided by an assigned Administrative Advisor and a NIFA Representative.

Literature Cited


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

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