Iowa Start-Up is Revolutionizing the Seed Production Process

Megan Vollstedt reported late last month at Successful Farming (SF) Online that, “Commercial seed production is a 100-year-old system that hasn’t changed much. Now, one start-up is revolutionizing the process with technology that maximizes the potential in golden grains of pollen.

Iowa-based PowerPollen was founded in 2015 by agriculture industry professionals who formerly worked in plant genetics, biology, and engineering. ‘Pollination is the most important biological process in agriculture. Without pollination, you won’t get the seed,’ says Jason Cope, cofounder and chief intellectual property officer.

The foundation of the technology is a pollen preservation method, which increases the lifespan of corn pollen from about one hour to eight months (or 5,000-fold). Targeted delivery of the preserved pollen, when the plants are ready, increases corn seed productivity by 20% and can provide an additional value of $1,000 per acre to seed producers.”

The SF article explained that, “Pollen-collecting machines drive through fields where plants are actively shedding pollen. The tassels in male rows are directed through the machine, pollen is pulled off, then brought back to the company lab for preservation. More than 80 liters of pollen can be collected in one day using this process.

“Once the pollen arrives at the lab, it is conditioned with a proprietary additive, then stored. Throughout the process, the pollen is tested to ensure it remains viable for application later.

“‘Ordinarily, the male plants shed pollen when they are ready, and it goes where the wind and turbulence take it,’ explains Mark Westgate, chief science officer. PowerPollen dispenses a concentrated dose of preserved pollen onto receptive female plants using machine applicators. As the applicators move through the field, they direct clouds of pollen to the plants.”

Ms. Vollstedt added that, “PowerPollen is now making in pollination what may lead to another option for farmers: designer pollen. Instead of planting seed at the beginning of the season with traits that are set in stone, farmers could introduce pollen with particular desired characteristics at the time of pollination. That could mean restoring yield under adverse weather conditions, switching from commodity corn to ethanol, and increasing yield.”

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