Since the 1970s, technology has doubled average U.S. corn yields from 75 bushels per acre to 154 bushels per acre today. A milestone in this accomplishment was increasing the per-acre-plant population from 18,000 plants to 30,000 plants and narrowing corn rows from 38-to-40 inches to 30-inch rows.

Fraley says agriculture’s genetic revolution will further shrink corn row width to 20-inch rows or twin rows to accommodate 50,000 plants to 60,000 plants per acre. He expects U.S. corn acreage to increase 20 percent to 100 million acres in the next 10 to 20 years. This will drive changes in farm equipment.

“The economics of corn, demand, and the genetic flexibility to move the Corn Belt further North and further West will be there,” Fraley said. “We are targeting a national average of 300 bushels per acre. Growers in the upper Midwest will push 350 bushels to 400 bushels per acre.”

A bag of corn seed in the future will have 15 to 20 biotech traits. Seed treatments could include 15 to 20 active ingredients, plus several biological agents to improve nitrogen uptake.

In fertilization, new hybrids with completely different genetics will take up nitrogen far later in the corn plant-growing season. Fraley says side dressing applications will continue along with the potential to apply nitrogen by air and other foliar-application methods.

Biotechnology is expanding into specialty crops. The science has been launched in sugar beets and more recently in sweet corn. Companies worldwide are implementing biotech advances in dry beans in Brazil and egg plant in India.

Yet the limit for biotechnology is not further developing the science. Government is a key obstacle.

“(Biotech) Tools have been developed and are broadly applicable across multiple crops,” Fraley explained. “The barrier to adoption is not technology. The barrier is government policy and regulations that can be too restrictive. That is the challenge.”

cblake@farmpress.com