Convincing pork producers to set energy specifications in the corn that they buy has proven more difficult than expected.

For Pioneer Hi-Bred Inter-national, Inc., the last eight years have been a lesson in patience. The Johnston, IA-based seed company has expended considerable resources to determine the digestible energy (DE) of different corn hybrids.

And Pioneer has used rapid analysis technology to take the next step in developing the capability to measure DE content in whole corn.

But commercializing those and other valuable corn traits for end users, in order to upgrade the overall value from row crops for pork and poultry producers, has encountered some resistance, says swine nutritionist Daniel Jones, business manager, Pork and Poultry, Pioneer.

“Commercialization of these traits will require buyers to begin establishing improved specifications for grain trade based on the grains' functional value. With improved market standards in place, supply chains can begin to recognize value, and the processes to develop products that meet these improved standards can be focused and accelerated,” he explains.

Crop Production Evolves

In the past, plant-breeding efforts focused mainly on increasing crop yields, with little attention to the nutritional or industrial advantages of the grain products produced, Jones recalls.

But new technologies that measure grain potential for end users has widened the focus to opportunities that “enhance end-use utility and value of hybrid grain products,” he notes.

Plus, improved breeding techniques and biotechnology applications of corn seed has “set the stage for significant quality improvement of grains,” he continues.

Changing Buyers' Mindset

The challenge now for seed companies is to convince buyers to begin placing specifications like DE on grain purchases, so that supply chains can operate on that basis rather than on standard physical grades for corn quality, suggests Jones.

Rules for those grades — enacted in 1916 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and updated in 1986 — provide buyers with very little information on nutrient content or functional quality of the grain.

In the absence of adequate analysis tools for corn, most users simply buy No. 2 yellow corn, even though nutritionists have known that nutritional variation exists, says Jones.

“Historically, the animal feeding industry has just chosen to operate on the ‘use-whatever-we-get’ principal. Even though the same industry has taken note of some of the trends that have occurred over the years, such as the steady decline in corn protein concentration, no significant actions have been implemented on a wide scale to change the course,” he remarks.

Jones says Pioneer and other seed companies are working to boost available energy concentration through improving gross energy by increasing oil concentration in the kernel, increasing digestibility of the energy-containing components (protein, oil, starch and fiber) and employing both strategies simultaneously.

Improving dry matter and/or energy digestibility also offers the positive side benefit of incremental reduction in animal waste excretion, he points out.

Areas of Improvement

Seed companies are working in several areas to improve technology to boost the value of corn:

  • Improved protein quality: Corn supplies a large amount of total protein in mono-gastric diets, due to its large inclusion rate in pork and poultry rations.

    “But the protein quality of corn suffers due to its low concentrations of several essential amino acids such as lysine, threonine and trytophan,” says Jones.

    Biotechnology is being used to change the amino acid content of corn, such as Monsanto's efforts to develop a high-lysine corn.

    Due to environmental constraints pushing lower levels of nitrogen excretion, interest in using biotechnology to change more than a single amino acid in corn is growing, says Jones.

    Research from these efforts (Dupont-Pioneer's parent company and Monsanto) will identify traits to potentially endow corn with amino acid concentrations that are balanced to more closely meet the needs of the animals, he says.

    “These products have potential to dramatically change the need to supplement both protein meals and crystalline amino acids, while at the same time lowering nitrogen excretion and freeing up available energy space in formulations,” he adds.

  • Improved availability of phosphorus: Adding to phosphorus availability for corn and soybeans has tremendous potential impact on nutrient management systems of animal production.

    Development of low-phytate corn and soybean products had stalled because the hybrids had reduced stand establishment, stand integrity and ultimately yield, comments Jones.

    Seed companies have now turned to biotechnology to produce the genetic manipulations required to increase phosphorus availability, hopefully without the agronomic challenges of commercial low-phytate products.

    Syngenta is developing a corn product that carries its own heat-stable phytase enzyme to increase phosphorus availability rather than decrease phytic acid directly.

  • Fatty acid composition of grains: The rapid growth of ethanol and dried distiller's grains with solubles (DDGS) as a feedstuff for swine makes changing the fatty acid profile of corn oil desirable for pork carcass quality, says Jones.

DuPont marketed some high-oil, high-oleic acid corn varieties that reduced the iodine value of the corn oil substantially, but were difficult to produce.

Development of a biotechnology-derived trait to significantly reduce iodine value is underway.

In soybeans, products have been developed more rapidly with altered fatty acid profile. This has mainly been driven by food regulations to reduce or eliminate trans-fatty acids. DuPont, Monsanto and Iowa State University have all developed soybeans with low linolenic acid concentration.

Enhanced-Value Research

Pioneer is a leader in developing measurement systems to provide enhanced value for feedgrains for animal feed, dry grind ethanol, corn wet milling and food corn.

Using Near Infrared (NIR) measurement systems, Pioneer has developed prediction models that measure:

  • Extractability of starch (in cooperation with the University of Illinois);

  • Total fermentable potential of corn for dry grind ethanol production;

  • Digestible energy concentration of corn for pork and poultry;

  • Density of corn grain; and

  • Fatty acid concentrations of corn and soybeans.

Most recently, Pioneer scientists have used NIR to measure DE concentration in whole corn for pork and poultry, and have used the tool to characterize the potential of Pioneer's commercial hybrid products to deliver DE.

Currently, Pioneer is the only seed company that provides corn energy characterization information based on direct measurement of DE on the products they sell, says Jones.