Seed companies improve the nutritioual value of feed corn

About 80% of the corn produced in the United States is fed to animals. In recent years, seed companies have taken steps to improve the nutritional makeup of corn as a feed. High-oil corn, high-protein corn, corn with elevated levels of amino acids and corn with more digestible phosphorus are a few of the newest improvements entering the marketplace.

Within the next decade, it's probable that farmers will grow corn hybrids tailor-made for the nutritional and health needs of a specific animal group. Researchers are hopeful that they'll be able to genetically engineer crops like corn, wheat and rice to improve their nutritive quality for humans and animals. Currently, researchers are tinkering with the oil and protein components to produce healthier oils and amino acid levels that are balanced for specific animal diets.

Twenty amino acids are needed by all animal groups, including humans. Depending upon the species, five to eight of these amino acids cannot be synthesized by the body and must be ingested regularly to maintain proper health. They are known as "essential" amino acids. Most plants do not have a full complement of these essential amino acids that animals need to survive. If only one of these essential amino acids is missing in the diet, the ability of the animal to utilize others in the diet will be limited. Through genetic engineering, plants of the future may provide a full complement of essential amino acids, a boon for billions of people in the developing world and a chance to reduce costs and improve efficiency in livestock production.

Tailor-made crops. A gigantic step in that direction was made when Demegen, a Pittsburgh-based ag biotechnology firm, through its USDA and university collaborators, genetically engineered potatoes, sweet potatoes and peanuts with an artificial protein storage gene that increases the total protein content of the plant by more than three times and increases the number of essential amino acids up to tenfold. It recently licensed this technology to Dow AgroSciences for use in transgenic plants such as corn and alfalfa. "It's promising technology that has the potential to reduce costs and increase efficiency of livestock production," says Paul Zorner, project success leader, Dow AgroSciences,

Although products from that technology are many years away, here are several nutritionally improved corn hybrids targeted for animal feed, which were introduced this year or will be introduced in the next few years.

Balanced nutrition. This year, Dow AgroSciences and Mycogen offered two hybrids with "Supercede" nutritional traits that provide a more balanced nutrient makeup than No. 2 commodity corn or high-oil-only corn. The hybrids, developed through conventional breeding, yield approximately 5.5% oil and 10% protein, compared with commodity corn's 3.5 % oil and 8.5% protein. They also have levels of essential amino acids that are higher than those in commodity corn. The single-cross hybrids yield competitively with conventional elite hybrids, according to Mark Henderson, manager of value-added grains for Dow AgroSciences.

The Supercede hybrids are being grown in Iowa and southern Minnesota on tens of thousands of acres and will be tested by several poultry, turkey and swine producers. Ag Processing (AGP) of Omaha, NE, has contracted with growers to produce the Supercede hybrids for a $0.15 to $0.20/bu. premium. AGP will identity preserve the grain and plans to use it in its domestic feed company, Consolidated Nutrition, and in its Venezuelan poultry operation. AGP will supply other swine and poultry integrators with Supercede grain to run feed trial comparisons.

"Supercede has a whole set of nutritional enhancements that make it a different product than any on the market," says Mike Knobbe, vice president, grain division, AGP. "The nutritional components of Supercede grain could displace other sources of protein, fat and essential amino acids in animal diets. There's a great opportunity not only domestically but in Latin America where the duty and freight on animal fats will make this an attractive alternative." Dow AgroSciences expects a fivefold increase in acreage planted to Supercede next year as it develops further alliances with grain companies, processors and livestock integrators. For more information, call 800/722-7297, search www.dowagro.com/supercede.

For the market. This year Optimum Quality Grains offered introductory quantities of a high-oleic, high-oil corn produced by the TopCross method. "The oil composition was changed to a healthier profile," explains Russ Sanders, vice president of animal feeds for Optimum. "Through a diet of high-oleic grain we hope to improve the healthfulness and shelf life of poultry and pork products." Various producers and processors will be testing the high-oleic, high-oil grain in their rations and monitoring its effects on meat. Preliminary results from last year look promising. "This takes us downstream to affecting meat quality. We think it will be most advantageous if it is fed to animals in a branded meat system," says Sanders. Mark Johnson, district sales manager for Wyffels Hybrids, says growers will receive a $0.10 premium for the oleic trait on top of the $0.20 to $0.30 premium they've been earning for TopCross high-oil corn.

By 2001 Wyffels expects to offer the following stacked combinations: high oil + high lysine + Yieldgard + rootworm control; high oil + high methionine + Yieldgard + rootworm control; and high oil + high available phosphorus.

Optimum offered introductory quantities of high available phosphorus (HAP) corn in 1999 through Pioneer. HAP corn makes 60 to 70% of the phosphorus available to the animal, compared with only 15% availability in normal corn. "HAP corn can reduce manure phosphorus content by about a third and that's positive for the environment. Making the phosphorus more available to the animal will also reduce the need for phosphorus supplements, which are the third most costly ingredient in pig and poultry rations," Sanders says. For more information, call 888/707-7648, search www.oqg.com.

ExSeed licensed its NutriDense, nutrient-enhanced corn technology to 20 seed corn companies and offered introductory quantities this year. NutriDense corn provides elevated levels of protein, oil and amino acids. Its grain yields 11.36% protein, 5.34% oil, 0.35% lysine, 0.24% methionine, 0.39 % threonine and 0.08% tryptophan. "Growers are receiving a 15-cent-per-bushel premium to grow NutriDense corn for integrated feeders. NutriDense genetics will save the feeder around two dollars per ton on finished swine and poultry feed," says Kim Kuebler, director of marketing for ExSeed. The company also has licensed a low-phytate corn, NutriDense LP, that has higher levels of digestible phosphorus. In the future the company expects to offer species-specific hybrids. "NutriSwine, NutriDairy, NutriPoultry and NutriPet hybrids will be designed to meet the nutritional needs of specific animal groups," Kuebler says. For details call 800/233-8942, visit www.exseed.com.

Next spring Wilson Genetics, a joint venture of Novartis Seeds and Cenex/Land O'Lakes Agronomy Company, will offer several high-protein white and yellow corn hybrids for the food and feed markets. The grain from these hybrids will provide 12% protein, according to David Nelson, manager of quality traits and strategic planning. The first hybrids will be available in the 115-day relative maturity range. Several large swine operations will test the grain in rations this year. For more information, call Jeff Jorgensen at 800/445-0956, visit www.nk.com.

Although they have not mentioned specific products, Monsanto and Cargill have invested heavily in their joint venture company, Renessen, to develop higher-value grain and oil seeds for specific feed and processing markets. "Renessen will create new and better products for animal feed and grain processing. It will give farmers more options and choices in raising crops targeted for higher-value markets," says spokesperson Lisa Drake.

Vaccines and health promoters. Companies also are looking at incorporating edible vaccines into plants to protect animals from disease. By 2001, Stauffer Seeds, in conjunction with Prodigene, plans to sell commercial corn hybrids genetically engineered to provide a vaccine for transmissible gastroenteritis (TGEV), a swine virus. The corn has been successfully transformed, and feeding studies are underway to evaluate its effectiveness at immunizing pigs against TGEV. The market potential for this crop is about 500,000 acres, according to Tony Laos, president of Stauffer Seeds. He expects that growers will earn a $1/bu. premium to grow the corn. For more information, call toll-free 888/259-6109.

Bruce Lawhorn, extension swine veterinarian at the Texas Agriculture Extension Service, says TGEV is ranked as one of the top five diseases in the swine industry. "Once an outbreak starts it's nearly impossible to stop it from going through the whole operation. It's very contagious. Nearly 100% of the animals get sick with diarrhea and most baby pigs die," he explains. "Potentially, if the pigs could drink or eat something during a TGEV outbreak to prevent or reduce sickness, it could stop considerable economic loss."

Another advantage of an edible vaccine is the ease of administering it; no needles and no extra handling of the animals are required. Manufacturing the vaccine in corn could also significantly reduce its cost.

Dekalb Genetics, a member of the Monsanto Global Seed Group, recently received an exclusive worldwide license to develop and market corn that may combat virus infection within poultry. Corn genetically transformed with a gene that codes for poultry interferon may serve as an alternative or adjunct to vaccines in combating virus infection within poultry.

"Interferon is a naturally occurring chemical produced by animals to help the animal's immune system fend off viruses," says Dr. Alan Kriz, a Monsanto researcher. He says that a commercial corn hybrid with interferon will not be available until at least 2004.