Research funded by the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) will help organic farmers address the growing threat of GMO contamination to their organic corn crops. OFRF provided funding for a breeding project led by Frank Kutka of the Seed We Need Project in Dickinson, North Dakota. The purpose of the project is to reduce transgenic contamination of organic corn by maintaining the integrity of organic corn seed.
The proliferation of genetically modified corn varieties in the U.S. has made it increasingly difficult for organic farmers to grow corn that is not is not contaminated by GM varieties through cross pollination. It is also difficult to find corn seed that is free of GMO contamination
OFRF confirmed the GMO challenges facing organic farmers in its 2015 National Organic Farmer Survey. OFRF asked farmers about their experience with GMO contamination. Nationally, 2.2 percent of farmers reported having a product shipment rejected due to GMO contamination. However, in the North Central region—where GM corn is grown extensively—6 percent of respondents reported having a product shipment rejected due to GMO contamination.
One farmer stated, “All of my 2014 corn crop was rejected for the food grade market due to contamination that came in from most likely my neighbor’s corn field. I always plant my corn much later (than neighboring conventional farmers) due to contamination having caused a huge negative impact for me.”
To address the problem, Kutka crossed sources of gametophytic incompatibility—a trait that strongly interferes with successful fertilization by pollen from plants without the trait—with a number of corn populations and inbred lines. Along with other practices designed to maintain genetic purity of corn varieties, these traits should provide additional insurance against transgene contamination once the seed is planted.
Although it is not foolproof, this organic seed breeding greatly reduces outcropping and protects organic corn from GMO contamination. In addition to making the new “Organic Ready” corn varieties available, Kutka is providing public outreach through videos, presentations, and interviews highlighting the traits and importance of organic corn and organic plant breeding.
For more information, visit www.ofrf.org.