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Otto, an agricultural crop production major, capped off his fall semester with a University of Arizona internship project by planting and harvesting the acre of worm-resistant sweet corn at the ag science fields at AWC. He submitted a report of his findings to the University of Arizona where he is soon transferring.
The seeds for the project were a genetically modified variety which are resistant to the European corn borer--a pest that costs over a billion dollars annually to corn growers.
They were donated by Keithly-Williams Seeds, a Yuma seed distributor that was trying out the seed on a trial basis and had some left over.
Kevin Ford, a quality assurance manager at Keithly-Williams said the corn is what’s commonly referred to as a Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) corn. It has had its genes spliced with those of the Bt bacterium.
Ford noted the seed is not a “silver bullet” meaning that it does not totally rid the crop of worms. He said the crop is mostly effective using integrated pest management.
But, he said, this variety of corn does allow for less environmental impact as it doesn’t require many pesticide or herbicide applications.
Kurt Nolte, professor of agricultural sciences at AWC, said he was surprised how well the corn turned out.
“It really surprisingly tasted good,” he said. “I didn’t think they had gotten the bugs worked out, but this stuff was spectacular.”
Otto explained the corn produces a protein that upsets the digestive system of the worm but has no effect on humans.
The worms may start eating the leaves or any part of the plant but soon get the equivalent of an upset stomach and die.
“You can’t be worm-free,” Otto said. But he proclaimed the corn to be 80 to 90 percent clean.
Otto said the corn was planted in early September and was only sprayed twice with a light pesticide early in its growth. After that the crop didn’t need another application of pesticide.
Nolte added the corn needs the usual watering and care of most corn crops but it also needs a lot of fertilizer.
Otherwise, Nolte said, this corn crop is raised like any other.
The culmination of the project resulted in much of the harvested corn, about 16,000 ears, being sold to Del Sol Market and Foothills Market.
Nolte said he’s planning to use the funds from the corn sale for a future student project by Carmen Johanssen to raise flowers at the AWC ag science fields.
The remaining ears were left to be picked by AWC staff and faculty.
One of the staff who took advantage of the free corn was Amy Wells, the associate dean of academic and technical programs.
“I picked a ton of it and I didn’t find one worm,” she said. “It was juicy, there were no bugs and it was sweet.”
“It was really nice not to peel back that husk and find a worm,” she said.