Food experts say that U.S. farmers need to grow an average 300 bu. of corn/acre by 2030 to help feed the world’s growing population. It doesn’t take an expert to see that this goal won’t be reached at our current rate of corn yield improvement. It has taken more than 40 years for corn yields to increase from 100 bu./acre in 1978 to 150 bu./acre, which was first reached in 2007. U.S. growers now have 18 years to double their yield to reach 300 bu./acre.

A corn breeder who relocated from Minnesota to Puerto Rico has a plan to help the national corn yield average. Ed Baumgartner developed a new line of corn genetics that he says will improve yields on the fringe areas of the Corn Belt. “If we can raise the fringe areas from a current 80 to 150 bu./acre yields, we are doing our part to help out the national average,” he says.

The fringe areas typically face the most heat and drought stress, along with insect pressure. So Baumgartner’s Puerto Rican group 3MG selected corn plants showing tolerance to drought, heat and insect feeding. Their first attempts yielded only a few plants, Baumgartner says. But over time, they increased the number of plants to where they now have a line of drought-, heat- and insect-tolerant plants called DuraYield. Built of native corn traits, the line is available for licensing to 3MG’s customers.

Although Baumgartner’s plan is just one answer to the question of how growers can increase corn yields, it is an innovative plan. More innovations solutions are needed to jump-start a major corn yield boost.

Karen McMahon is the editor of Farm Industry News and contributes this monthly column in the print edition of the magazine.