Pollination is an essential step in food production and one that nature facilitates in several ingenious ways. Unfortunately, nature isn’t always the most efficient or reliable partner in this critical process. Iowa-based PowerPollen says it can eliminate the uncertainties with a breakthrough technology that can collect and store pollen, allowing it to be applied on-demand during the optimal pollination window. The company now has licensing agreements with both Corteva and Bayer to help corn seed growers optimize pollination and improve yield and purity, with plans to expand the breakthrough technology to even more crops and regions.
PowerPollen co-founder Jason Cope is an engineer with over 20 years of seed industry experience, including roles at Corteva Agriscience and Bayer. As he explains, commercial corn seed production hasn’t changed since it first began back in the 1930s. “Despite extensive efforts by the seed industry to improve male sterility methods, hybrid seed production relies on decades-old planting methods that are inefficient and costly. Current protocols rely on planting delays and mechanical treatments to help synchronize the reproductive timing between the male and female plants, which is difficult to achieve.” Cope says he and is co-founder and partner, molecular geneticist Todd Krone, realized the inefficiencies of the system and had a sense that preservation of pollen was the answer.
With PowerPollen’s pollination on-demand technology, pollination is no longer reliant on the male plant’s daily shedding window of approximately three hours. PowerPollen begins by tracking plants through the maturation cycle. Once mature, special equipment collects the pollen at a very large scale and PowerPollen is then able to preserve it. Corn pollen typically dies within 30 minutes of being shed but PowerPollen has successfully used cryogenically preserved pollen stored for an entire year.
Once the ideal pollination window opens, PowerPollen technology then applies collected pollen to female plants any time of day or night, maximizing yield and reducing the impact of adverse weather conditions and other factors that impede pollination. Controlled pollination also results in more consistent seed production and reduces the labor needed for detassling. “Those things add up to higher crop yields and more money in growers’ pockets,” says Cope. “[By our calculations,] this reduces their cost by about $1,300 per acre.” Benefits for seed corn producers also include planting entire fields to the desired female line instead of a mix of male and female.
For seed companies, which Cope says typically overplant by 25-35% to cover the risks of fields not performing, consistent output means they can also reduce that overproduction. At the same time controlled pollination allows crossing hybrid lines, even if both lines don’t naturally pollinate at the same time, according to Cope. Meaning that male dominant traits such as insect resistance, drought tolerance, or oil content could be introduced to an entire crop through pollen. “We can even make adjustments during season, depending on field conditions or the marketplace,” he says.
Powerpollen says it has shown an average increase of yields by more than 20 percent and a 50 percent reduction in contamination. The technology is currently being offered for corn seed producers but they plan to offer it for commercial corn growers in the next two to three years. The company plans to expand its technology to wheat and rice, also. In fact, they’ve already formed a partnership with BASF to apply the technology to wheat hybrids. PowerPollen also plans to expand to other geographies with Europe and South America both being eyed for 2022. Learn more at PowerPollen’s website HERE. (Sources: Seed World, Clay&Milk, AgriNews)