Soaking In Drought Traits

Drought has long been one of Mother Nature’s toughest summer threats. In any given year, 10 million to 13 million acres of farmland planted to corn in the U.S. may be affected by at least moderate drought. Several new drought tolerance options in corn will be available in 2010, including:

Pioneer hopes to launch its first drought-tolerant corn hybrids developed with the company’s Accelerated Yield Technology (AYT), depending on on-farm trial results, according to Harrington. The multi-faceted program to develop Drought I corn hybrids includes conventional breeding, molecular-enhanced breeding and selection, and transgenic approaches.

Drought I corn hybrids will be developed using native drought-tolerant traits; they do not require regulatory approvals for commercialization or export. These hybrids will be marketed in dryland and limited-irrigation growing environments of the western Corn Belt where yield expectations typically are lower due to lack of adequate rainfall and available water.

Yield improvement targets for Drought I corn hybrids are 5% to 10% better than leader hybrids currently available in these limited-water environments, says Jeff Schussler, Pioneer senior research manager.

The company’s Drought II hybrids, which will add a transgenic trait to the Drought I native trait, are anticipated to be available in five to seven years.

■ USDA scientists plan to release a line of drought-tolerant soybeans soon. These varieties utilize a slow-wilting trait and provide good yield potential under normal rainfall conditions. According to Dr. Tommy Carter, USDA Agricultural Research Service plant geneticist, the slow-wilting lines yield 4 bushels to 8 bushels better than conventional varieties under drought conditions.

Monsanto Co. and German-based BASF Corp. expect to launch drought-tolerant corn hybrids in 2012, pending regulatory approvals. The two companies are partnering in a R&D and commercialization collaboration in plant biotechnology, which includes drought tolerance technology. Field trials for drought-tolerant corn conducted last year in the western Great Plains met or exceeded the 6% to 10% target yield enhancement — about 7 bushels per acre (bu/A) to 10 bu/A — over the average yield of 70 bu/A to 130 bu/A in some of the key drought-prone areas in the U.S.

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