USDA grant to support study of orange corn in poultry feed
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded a $650,000 grant to West Lafayette-based NutraMaize, an agriculture company that has developed nutritionally enhanced orange corn. The company said the grant will be used to demonstrate the benefits of feeding its orange corn to poultry on a commercial scale.
NutraMaize is a Purdue University-affiliated startup that sells orange corn products, such as corn flour, corn meal and corn grits, through the Professor Torbert’s Orange Corn brand.
The company was co-founded by Torbert Rocheford, the Patterson Endowed Chair and a professor of agronomy in Purdue’s College of Agriculture, and his son, Evan. Torbert first began researching the benefits of increasing cartenoids in corn in his Purdue lab more than 20 years ago.
Cartenoids are micronutrients that give many vegetables and fruits, like carrots, their color. They can provide many benefits, including helping to maintain healthy eye function and boosting Vitamin A levels.
The funding comes in the form of a two-year, Phase II Small Business Innovation Research grant. Evan Rocheford, who serves as NutraMaize’s CEO, said a previously-awarded Phase I SBIR grant funded proof-of-concept studies that showed the company’s orange corn improved outcomes in both the health of poultry and egg yolk pigmentation.
“Our previous research shows that when used in poultry feed, NutraMaize Orange Corn has the potential to improve animal welfare, consumer well-being and producer profitability,” Rocheford said in written remarks. “We’ve shown that it can reduce the incidence and severity of footpad dermatitis, a common health problem for poultry, and significantly enhance the depth of color and health-benefiting antioxidant carotenoid content in egg yolks.”
The Phase II project will focus on showcasing that the orange corn can produce economically relevant health benefits for chickens that are used for both meat production and egg laying, can enhance the nutritional, visual and functional properties of poultry meat and eggs, and can be produced efficiently and affordably for the poultry industry.
Rocheford said the company is particularly interested in working organic egg producers, which have limited options for disease management. He said those producers typically use cartenoid supplements, which are more expensive.
“For organic producers especially, NutraMaize Orange Corn has the opportunity to reduce feed costs, reduce losses associated with disease and deliver a darkly colored egg yolk with enhanced levels of health-benefiting carotenoids,” Rocheford said. “It’s really a win-win-win for the producer, animal and consumer.”
NutraMaize will be working with researchers in Purdue’s College of Agriculture and the USDA’s National Poultry Research Center in Athens, Georgia.
The research team will conduct studies at the Animal Sciences and Research Education Center at Purdue and partner with grain farmers and commercial poultry producers to conduct field studies.
“Our mission is to help improve the well-being of as many people and animals as possible,” Rocheford said. “So, we want to talk to every poultry producer, feed mill, grain handler, farmer and seed company who sees the potential value NutraMaize Orange Corn can provide at scale.”
In 2019, the company announced it had received more than $1 million in grants from the National Science Foundation, the USDA and the state of Indiana to further commercialization efforts for its orange corn products.