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.
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.
Seed companies utilizing technology like PowerPollen will be able to test a wider range of inbred combinations to make a wider range of hybrid products that perform effectively for farmers.