New drought-tolerant corn ready for market this spring

Seed technology | Non-GM varieties to be planted across U.S. corn belt

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — New seed technology hitting the market in 2012 should help stabilize U.S. corn yields.

Adverse weather has caused two consecutive years of declining yields, leading to extremely tight corn supplies.

The long-term trend of rising yields led the U.S. Department of Agriculture to forecast the 2012 yield will be 164 bushels, but in 2011 the average was only 147.2 bu. per acre and in 2010 it was 152.8.

Higher yields are needed to meet growing demand and rebuild stocks that are scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Help appears to be on the way.

Pioneer Hi-Bred anticipates its Optimum AQUAmax non-genetically modified drought tolerant corn will be planted on three million acres in the western corn belt in 2012.

“That (acreage) will rapidly expand over the coming years,” Monica Patterson, senior marketing manager of technology launch with Pioneer, said during an interview at the 2012 Commodity Classic conference in Nashville.

The new drought tolerant hybrids could help the corn industry achieve the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ambitious 164 bu. per acre average yield projection for the 2012-13 crop, an 11 percent increase over this year’s estimated average.

Terry Vinduska, a grower from central Kansas, believes Pioneer’s drought tolerant technology will increase corn supply in the United States.

“It will help stabilize those dryland corn yields,” he said.

Vinduska planted small amounts of four of Pioneer’s new drought tolerant hybrids on his farm last year. The Optimum AQUAmax hybrids delivered five to 15 bu. per acre more than the non-drought tolerant hybrids on his farm.

“That’s going to allow me to raise a more consistent yielding crop if the weather conditions dip slightly, so it will allow us to be a more consistent producer,” he said.

Optimum AQUAmax performed admirably in large-scale, on-farm field trials in 2011, showing an average 7.1 percent yield advantage over grower-selected checks in 700 trials in water-limited environments.

That amounted to about a 10 bu. per acre yield increase in extreme drought stressed areas of the U.S.

“That’s pretty significant right now with grain prices where they are,” said Patterson.

Not only did Optimum AQUAmax provide protection in areas where drought pushed average yields below 150 bu. per acre, but it also delivered a 3.5 percent top-end yield advantage over grower-selected checks in more than 7,000 comparisons under more favourable growing conditions where yields were more than 200 bu. per acre.

Pioneer was the first to the market with drought tolerant corn, but the competition is close on its heels.

On-farm trials of Monsanto’s genetically modified DroughtGard hybrids will take place with 250 growers on 10,000 acres across the western Great Plains in 2012, from Texas to South Dakota.

Results of regulated small plot trials show that DroughtGard delivers up to a 10 bu. per acre reduction in loss compared to commodity corn.

“We’re seeing really promising results from the standpoint of overall tolerance to drought,” said Mark Edge, DroughtGard marketing lead with Monsanto.

He looks forward to seeing how the new hybrids perform in farmer field trials this year.

“To be honest with you, testing in small plots gets us only so far when it’s dealing with an issue like drought.”

The company plans to move into the corn market in a measured way with its new product, focusing first on the western Great Plains, where a “relatively small acreage” will be planted when the product is commercially launched next year.

“Out in the western Great Plains, there is more and more concern about the availability of water,” said Edge.

Patterson said Pioneer is testing its Optimum AQUAmax corn in Ontario this year. It can be used across Pioneer’s global breeding program because it is non-GM.

“We can certainly bring that technology into our breeding programs in Western Canada and hopefully have solutions available for growers in the future,” she said.

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