Companies see more demand for drought-tolerant corn
Brutal is the adjective that Clay Scott uses time after time to illustrate the agronomic conditions he saw in 2012 on his southwest Kansas farm near Ulysses.
The 40-year-old corn grower says conditions were so tough that few, if any, farmers in his area harvested dryland corn or even dryland milo, known for its hearty nature. "Most of it didn’t even germinate, that’s how dry we’ve been," he says.
Scott’s one exception was the DeKalb DroughtGard hybrid he grew in a research plot under limited irrigation. He applied 5.5 acre-inches of water in the plot and harvested an average yield of 80 bu. per acre.
"That was all the water I could give it, but I thought that was a good return in bushels per gallon," says Scott, who draws his irrigation water from the Ogallala Aquifer.
Scott says he planted the crop in early April and then harvested it in mid-August, nearly a month earlier than usual.
This spring, Scott plans to plant 10% of his corn acres to DroughtGard, which is available in a limited supply for farmers in the Western Great Plains, according to Monsanto. The company plans to expand the availability and field testing of the new seed technology in 2014.
Corn producers looking to minimize production risks are growing more drought-tolerant corn.
Yields despite stress. This winter, Syngenta and DuPont Pioneer reported increasexd seed production efforts to meet 2013 demand for their respective drought-tolerant products, Agrisure Artesian and Optimum AquaMax.
Syngenta field-tested nine hybrids with Agrisure Artesian technology on more than 800 farms in 2012, says Wayne Fithian, product lead, technical traits for Syngenta. "In Syngenta field trials across a variety of water availability levels, soil types and geographies, hybrids with Agrisure Artesian technology delivered up to 15% more yield under drought conditions (compared with the plot average), while maximizing yield in ideal moisture environments," he says.
Six new hybrids featuring the Agrisure Artesian technology were introduced for 2013 through Syngenta Garst, Golden Harvest and NK.
DuPont Pioneer is introducing 27 Optimum AquaMax products this year, bringing its total offering to 45 corn products designed for water-limited environments. The hybrids range in comparative relative maturity of 89 to 115, says Bob Heimbaugh, North American director of corn product evaluation for DuPont Pioneer.
In 11,269 comparisons with competitive products, 2012 yield data from DuPont Pioneer shows an 8.9% advantage with Optimum AquaMax products in water-limited environments.
The three technology providers offering drought-tolerant hybrids use two different approaches to developing their products. DuPont Pioneer and Syngenta use native genes that have been identified and selected from the corn genome. Monsanto, in collaboration with BASF, uses a drought-tolerant biotech trait, an industry first.
Increased farmer demand for drought-tolerant corn is to be expected, says Peter Thomison, Ohio State University Extension agronomist. "As growers hear more about climate change and the potential for more erratic weather conditions, they don’t want to use growing practices that count on good growing conditions; they are looking at ways to weather-proof their crops," says Thomison, who spoke at the Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference.
Thomison’s perspective is echoed by Kansas farmer Scott. "It’s good to see that companies are developing corn hybrids that are going to help me limit my risks in the future," he says. "More rain would be better, but when times are dry, I’m going to be happy to have corn out there that offers me a little bit more protection."
You can e-mail Rhonda Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org.