Corn can be pollinated once a day in traditional outdoor farm systems, but Bayer’s Marana Greenhouse aims to change what traditional pollination looks like with the help of a University of Arizona graduate. Caroline Schulte, who graduated from the Department of Biosystems Engineering and completed an internship at the greenhouse, is doing research on how to determine the ideal times for corn pollination in a controlled environment. Schulte claims that uncontrolled outdoor environmental conditions, specifically humidity, are responsible for the limited time frame for pollination feasibility.
The Marana Greenhouse may allow for an increase in the occurrence of pollination per day and higher quality pollen. More pollination means more sustainable corn for the world, due to faster research and development.
To avoid cross-pollination onsite, each stalk of corn is hand-pollinated by setting a bag over the tassel (male part of plant) and the next day removing it and placing on the silk (female part of plant). Schulte examines the pollen through a microscope, and proceeds to rate it based on size, shape, and color using a “Good,” “Intermediate,” and “Bad” scale. The highest viability pollen is large, consistently round, and bright yellow. Megan Dickens, the Protected Culture Production Operations Lead, states that having good pollen quality is an important steppingstone to improve production and research in the Marana Greenhouse. Dickens also says that the data collected by Schulte will paint a clearer picture on how pollen preforms in the greenhouse.
This project will help Schulte achieve her goal of helping people. “…Biosystems engineers focus on our basic human needs – getting water to everyone, getting food to everyone,” says Schulte. She intends on beginning her master’s degree in biosystems engineering this fall, upholding the idea that sustainability is key to helping feed the growing population around the globe.