Monsanto Tests Drought-Tolerant Biotech Corn

Drought-tolerant corn field

Monsanto Co. plans large-scale tests this year of the first government-approved biotech crop developed to deal with drought.

The new corn is being introduced as much of the U.S. remains abnormally dry and areas in the South and Southwest still face severe drought.

Monsanto says the corn won’t be a panacea for drought-stricken farmers but when combined with improved agricultural practices could help those in areas like the western Great Plains, where production without irrigation can be half as much as the national average.

Monsanto plans on-farm trials from South Dakota to Texas to quantify how well the corn works before releasing it commercially next year. Farmers in areas like western Kansas, which gets about half of the annual rainfall enjoyed by the eastern half of the state, are eager for the results.

“We’re not in a very wet country here,” said Harvey Heier, who has a farm near Grainfield, KS. “It would be a big plus … if it works.”

Monsanto developed the corn with a gene taken from a bacterium commonly found in soil and vegetation. The USDA decided against regulating it late last year, essentially approving it for commercial release. The decision is notable because it marks the first time USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has approved a product that has been genetically engineered to resist drought, rather than a pest or herbicide.

The agency says the corn is safe. Its analysis concluded the corn wasn’t likely to harm the environment, people or animals and wouldn’t boost corn production at the expense of grasslands and forest, said Michael Gregoire, deputy administrator of APHIS’s Biotechnology Regulatory Services.

Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food and Environment Program, said there’s no reason to think the corn might be unsafe, though he and Bill Freese at the Center for Food Safety say they wish there were more stringent testing and regulation of biotech crops. USDA said last November that it plans to speed up regulatory reviews of biotech crops even more by streamlining the process, cutting in half the average approval time of three years. New guidelines could be published as early as this month.

Officials in the corn and ethanol industries say drought-tolerant corn could help meet the dramatic increase in demand for the grain used to make both food and fuel. Public consumption of corn-based products has more than doubled in the past 30 years, while the ethanol industry’s demand for corn has doubled in the past five years, according to the USDA and Renewable Fuels Association.

It’s not clear whether Monsanto’s corn will actually boost production. The APHIS analysis prepared by Gregoire says field trial results showing more corn grown per acre under dry conditions aren’t statistically significant but suggest the corn would do well in drought.

But the analysis also notes some conventionally bred varieties have drought tolerance and “to some extent, all U.S. corn varieties have been becoming more drought resistant over time.”

Companies such as Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business, have introduced drought-tolerant corn developed through conventional and molecular breeding. No company but Monsanto has petitioned APHIS for approval of a genetically engineered drought-tolerant trait, spokesman R. Andre Bell said.

While Monsanto touts the variety developed with German chemical company BASF as “the industry’s first biotech drought solution,” it’s also been careful to limit expectations. The corn, which is being marketed under the name DroughtGard, is aimed at areas of the U.S. suffering moderate drought and is not currently part of the company’s effort to help bring drought-tolerant corn to parched areas of Africa.

“This isn’t a product that we’re expecting to grow in the desert,” Monsanto spokeswoman Danielle Stuart said. “You still need water and nutrients.”
Mark Edge, Monsanto’s drought marketing specialist, cautioned that while field trials were promising, they were limited. This year’s tests, involving as many as 250 growers in six states, should provide better information about where and how well it works, he said.

“We don’t see this as an end; this is a beginning to understanding how we can use the tools of biotechnology to interact in this complex arena of yield and (drought) stress,” Edge said. “We expect that our pipeline will have many more (products) that we bring forward.”

Gurian-Sherman predicted the corn will be “a Band-Aid, not a cure,” providing “modest” benefit on only about one-fifth of the U.S. corn acres that are in areas of frequent drought.

“I don’t think it’s useless technology … (but) we shouldn’t have an expectation that this technology is going to solve our drought problems in the foreseeable future – at least severe droughts,” he said.

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

Seed/Biotech Stories

Golden Harvest Corn stalks
Crop InputsMonsanto: Syngenta Not The Only Horse In Crop Protection Acquisition Race
August 28, 2015
Monsanto Co, having ditched an audacious $46 billion (£30 billion) offer for Syngenta AG, may downshift to a humbler strategy Read More
Rendering of Syngenta Seedcare Institute expansion
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Announces Seedcare Application And Resource Center
August 19, 2015
Syngenta recently announced the Seedcare Application and Resource Center, a collaborative new website designed exclusively for Syngenta Seedcare customers to Read More
Rendering of Syngenta Seedcare Institute expansion
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Breaks Ground On $20 Million Expansion Of North America Seedcare Institute
August 11, 2015
The Syngenta North America Seedcare Institute in Stanton, MN, one of the premier seed treatment research facilities in the world, Read More
Crop InputsMonsanto Petition To Deregulate Dicamba And Glufosinate-Tolerant Corn Now Available For Comment
August 11, 2015
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is making available for public comment a petition from the Monsanto Read More
Top 100 Articles
Crop InputsLand ‘O Lakes, United Suppliers Finalize Merger
August 24, 2015
According to a press release on August 24, owners of United Suppliers, Inc. and members of Land O’Lakes, Inc. “have Read More
West Central Cooperative, Jefferson, IA
CropLife 100Iowa Cooperatives To Explore Unification
August 19, 2015
The boards of directors at two of Iowa’s leading farmer-owned cooperatives yesterday signed a letter of intent to study the Read More
CropLife 100Southern States Coop Hosting Drone Flight This Friday
August 3, 2015
Southern States Cooperative — No. 9 on the CropLife 100 — is hosting an FAA-approved drone demonstration at Grandview Farms Read More
CropLife 100Aligned Ag Distributors Adds Four New Owners
July 30, 2015
Aligned Ag Distributors LLC has announced the addition of four new customer/owners to Franklin Holding Co. LLC. They are: The Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Purchases California-Based Specialty Crops Retailer
July 20, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings has successfully acquired California-based NH3 Service Co.  Operating as part of Pinnacle’s Performance Agriculture brand, the new locations Read More
Asmus Farm Supply liquid fertilizer facility features 20,000 square feet
CropLife 100Slideshow: Asmus Farm Supply Shows Off Its New Liquid Fertilizer Facility
July 15, 2015
Asmus Farm Supply, Rake, IA, recently added a new liquid fertilizer facility to its company operations. The new liquid fertilizer Read More
Latest News
StewardshipBee Buffer Strip Initiative Seeks 100 Ohio Farmers
August 31, 2015
The U.S. Bee Buffer Project, an initiative of the Pollinator Partnership (P2), Burt’s Bees and The Burt’s Bees Greater Good Read More
2015 ShowStopper Award, MAGIE
EquipmentA ShowStopper From Case IH: The Patriot 2250
August 31, 2015
For nine years now, visitors to the yearly Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE) show have been tasked with not only Read More
Crop InputsMonsanto, FMC Expand Roundup Ready PLUS Platform
August 31, 2015
FMC Corp. and Monsanto Co. announced today an expanded agreement to continue their participation in the Roundup Ready PLUS Crop Read More
Deere Nutrient Applicator
Eric SfiligojThe Good & Bad News From MAGIE
August 31, 2015
As I write this column, I’ve just returned from the annual Midwest AG Industries (MAGIE) trade show in Bloomington, IL. Read More
CPS Morenci receiving its 4R certification
StewardshipCPS Morenci Becomes First Michigan Facility Certified I…
August 31, 2015
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced that Crop Production Services, Inc.’s facility located in Morenci, MI, has been Read More
EquipmentDeere Announces Soucy Track Distribution Alliance
August 28, 2015
John Deere announces an alliance with Soucy Track to sell and distribute products through the John Deere dealer channel. “This Read More
FertilizerFall-Applied Phosphorus: A Rooted Investment
August 28, 2015
As commodity prices decrease and input prices continue to rise, farmers are seeking more efficient strategies for meeting a high Read More
Monsanto Sign
Crop InputsWhat’s Next For Monsanto, Syngenta?
August 28, 2015
After dropping its $47 billion bid to take over Swiss agribusiness firm Syngenta, Monsanto may be turning its focus to Read More
Golden Harvest Corn stalks
Crop InputsMonsanto: Syngenta Not The Only Horse In Crop Protectio…
August 28, 2015
Monsanto Co, having ditched an audacious $46 billion (£30 billion) offer for Syngenta AG, may downshift to a humbler strategy Read More
ManagementConsolidation hits and a miss; And a look at China’s ch…
August 28, 2015
As Monsanto suspends its pursuit of Syngenta, consolidation news at the retail and distribution level heats up. CropLife magazine’s Executive Read More
Corn Field
MicronutrientsHuma Gro Introduces New Boron Liquid Nutrient Formulati…
August 28, 2015
BORO-MAX, a new boron (B) 10% liquid nutrient formulation, has been added to the Huma Gro product line. This new Read More
Crop InputsNFU: Monsanto Decision To Withdraw Syngenta Bid ‘…
August 26, 2015
National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson said the organization was very pleased by the news that Monsanto has withdrawn Read More
Crop InputsMonsanto Withdraws Bid For Syngenta
August 26, 2015
Monsanto Co. abandoned its latest effort to acquire Syngenta AG, the world’s top maker of pesticides, after a sweetened bid Read More
Syngenta Sign
Crop InputsSyngenta Comments On Monsanto Announcement
August 26, 2015
The Board of Syngenta confirms that it received a verbal proposal from Monsanto to acquire the company at a price Read More
Case IH Patriot 2250 Sprayer
EquipmentHigh-powered Case IH Patriot 2250 Sprayer Pushes Throug…
August 26, 2015
Engineered with more muscle, the new 660-gallon-capacity Patriot 2250 sprayer features best-in-class horsepower, along with the fuel efficiency that comes Read More
Crop InputsLand ‘O Lakes, United Suppliers Finalize Merger
August 24, 2015
According to a press release on August 24, owners of United Suppliers, Inc. and members of Land O’Lakes, Inc. “have Read More
TMX-2050 In-Cab Display Launch Run Screen
Eric SfiligojPrecision Ag Could Shine In Increased Spotlight On Agri…
August 24, 2015
By any measure, 2015 is turning into one of the most challenging years agriculture has ever experienced. All throughout good Read More
ManagementCrop Conditions In Minnesota and Traveling Time
August 21, 2015
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiilgoj discuss the crop outlook from a field trip to Minnesota and upcoming travel plans. Read More