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Agronomy Update

N. Indiana and Michigan: Managing Pollen Drift in Non-GMO Corn

Published on Friday, March 13, 2015

Premiums for Identity Preserved (IP), non-GMO corn are significant. However, these premiums can easily be reduced or lost when purity standards are not met. GMO pollen drift/contamination is the major contributor to non-GMO premium loss. 

Let’s review some “pollen” facts:

• Each corn plant produces 4 to 5 million pollen grains. Over 90 percent of the kernels are pollinated by other plants due to wind and gravity.
• Peak pollen shed occurs 2 to 3 days after 50 percent or more of corn plants have shed pollen.
• Most pollen settles within 50 ft. of the donor plant and is viable for 18 to 24 hours. Temperatures at or above 100˚F greatly limits pollen viability.
• Individual corn plants shed pollen for 5 to 6 days. A whole field may take 10 to 14 days to complete pollen shed due to natural variation and development among plants.
• Pollen grains, once released, can travel up to a half mile in two minutes in a 15 MPH wind. 

Isolation Practices to Minimize Pollen Drift in Non-GMO Fields

1. An isolation distance of 660 ft. typically provides 1 percent or less contamination.
2. An isolation distance of 984 ft. typically provides 0.5 percent or less contamination.
3. In research trials, GMO contamination could not be limited to 0.1 percent or less, with isolation distances of 1,640 ft.
4. These isolation distances are especially important on the prevailing wind side of non-GMO plantings. Typically the west and south sides which are more prevalent to pollen drift issues. 

Other practices to reduce GMO contamination include:

1. Staggering planting dates and hybrid maturity. 
2. Thorough cleaning of all harvest and transportation equipment. 
3. Thorough cleaning of storage facility, especially dust that may contain GMO residue. 

There are no “guarantees” when it comes to managing pollen drift. However, by using proven, researched isolation suggestions and techniques, an IP non-GMO, grower should be maximize the odds of attaining the best contract premium.

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