NEC-029 is one of three regional scientific groups that focus on corn improvement. The group has met annually since 1945, with participants from public and private sectors engaged in research and extension work on corn breeding and genetics, agronomy, plant pathology, and others in the Northeastern U.S. and Eastern Canada. The annual meetings have provided a forum for sharing and discussing research results related to corn improvement and public policy issues affecting corn research.
The NEC-029 conference has directed the focus of several research initiatives including one initiative to combat gray leaf spot, a disease that threatens Northeastern U.S. corn production. As a result, researchers at University of Delaware, Cornell University, Pennsylvania State University, and Virginia Polytechnic and State University have collaborated to develop new gray leaf spot resistant corn lines.
Teclemariam Weldekidan, scientist in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, has previously served as secretary and president of the NEC-029 and organized this year’s conference. There were 45 attendees at the conference from northeast and mid-west states and Ottawa, Canada. Twenty-one scientific papers on corn improvement were presented by invited and volunteered speakers, including graduate students. Attendees were thrilled with all aspects of this year’s conference. Several noted the meeting as the best in recent history in terms of the attendance, agenda, and venue.
Blake Meyers, the Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, opened the meeting with remarks about UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources structure, mission, and philosophy and its academic, research, and cooperative extension programs. Meyers discussed the value of agriculture in Delaware and contributions from UD’s corn breeding program including a productive UD-Pioneer Hi-Bred (a DuPont company) collaboration that led to the identification of a gene for corn disease resistance. This was followed by sessions on a range of topics including breeding and genetics, corn grain and silage composition management, new product development, crop management/ protection, and disease and insect resistance.
A special report was presented by Erick Erickson, the special assistant for planning and evaluation for the U.S. Grains Council, who discussed “World and U.S. Corn Supply and Demand Outlook.” Erickson reported the USDA’s long term projection for U.S. corn area planted to rise from 86.5 to 92 million acres, yields to climb from 164.7 to 180 bushels per acre, production to rise from 13.1 to 15.3 billion bushels, and ethanol use to rise from 4.57 to 5.53 billion bushels by the year 2020.
The new biotechnology events combined with advanced breeding and crop production techniques may push U.S. corn yields to more than 200 bushels per acre. Since the world must double food production while using less water and land, this requires progress in increasing genetic potential, increasing water use efficiency, and reducing losses due to disease and pests and post-harvest.
For more information on Weldekidan’s work with corn, visit [http://www.udel.edu/PR/UDaily/2007/aug/corn080906.html].