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Drought tolerant Seed companies release new corn hybrids

Written by Christy Martinez

New varieties of corn bred to tolerate drought conditions are available commercially this spring from some of the country’s top seed companies.
Pioneer Hi-Bred has developed a seed known as Optimum AQUAmax that is said to increase yields by five percent on average when water is short. The new product has been developed through conventional breeding, as opposed to genetic engineering, so it wasn’t subject to government approval before release.
Syngenta’s new drought-tolerant corn seed is said to reduce yield loss in dry fields by 15 percent. The Agrisure Artesian seed, available on a limited basis to the western Plains states this season, mainly western Kansas, Nebraska and eastern Colorado, is also touted to maintain parity with other seeds when moisture is ideal.
Syngenta says that, with Agrisure Artesian technology, western corn belt growers can use moisture more efficiently, resulting in higher yields on water-stressed acres, including both dryland and limited-irrigation farms. In addition, hybrids with Agrisure Artesian technology have demonstrated no yield drag under favorable growing conditions.
“Syngenta’s unique multiple modes of action approach allows the plant to yield more under water stress conditions throughout the growing season. Plant performance is enhanced regardless of which stage of development the plant is in when water stress occurs,” continues the company.
This spring the Pioneer seed is available in limited quantities to Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Texas – states where field evaluations have already been carried out, and where annual rainfall is barely half to one-third that of Iowa and the eastern corn belt. Since 2008, Optimum AQUAmax hybrids have been tested in 220-plus water-limited efficiency trials. The 2011 releases include five hybrids in a variety of maturity groups and technology packages.
“Pioneer will expand availability of AQUAmax hybrids for water-stressed environments in future years. I can’t pinpoint the exact year Wyoming growers will be able to purchase these products, but it should be soon,” says Pioneer spokesman Jerry Harrington.
Goshen County Pioneer seed dealer Lon Eisenbarth says he expects the AQUAmax hybrids to be available in Wyoming within the next couple years.
“At this point, we’re waiting on some shorter growing season varieties. Some that we’re growing this year just over the state line in Nebraska are just over the threshold of 90 to 100 days,” he says, adding that he thinks the drought-tolerant varieties could add as many as 20 bushels per acre in areas with marginal water supplies.
James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC) manager Bob Baumgartner says the Lingle center has one corn variety trial for this season, but the entries are on a coded basis and he’s not sure if it includes any drought-tolerant varieties. He says another potential trial through a seed company could have one or two lines of drought-tolerant varieties.
“Drought-tolerant corn is bred and selected for higher drought tolerance, and I feel like it could definitely benefit producers in Wyoming who have a limited irrigation setting and may not have a full allocation of water or may have a limited application time,” says Baumgartner. “I definitely think producers would adopt it. It’s somewhat of an insurance against the elements.”
In addition to Optimum AQUAmax, Pioneer also is working on a biotech variety, but it won’t be ready until the middle of the decade at the earliest, says the company. According to Pioneer senior research manager Jeff Schussler, new drought tolerant transgenic hybrids promise a 10 to 15 bushel improvement in yield.
Syngenta is also pursuing a genetically modified seed, which is in early development, says Robert Bensen, the company’s Trait Genetics Lead.
Monsanto Co., another dominant U.S. seed producer, is not introducing a competing drought-tolerant product in 2011, but the company has said it will be the first on the market with a genetically modified drought-tolerant seed. It could begin field trials in 2012, a spokeswoman said.
Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..