Imagine being able to control every drop of water a corn field receives. That’s exactly what DuPont does at its research center in Woodland, Calif. A maze of drip tape delivers a precise amount of moisture to each plant. Rain is a rarity in these parts during the growing season, which makes the location the ideal place to subject hybrids to moisture stress.
It’s all part of an effort to help researchers at Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business, unravel the secrets behind making hybrids more tolerant to drought. In 2011, the company plans to bring its first hybrids containing native drought-tolerant traits to market. Products developed under the “Drought I” program are currently in the final stages of testing and are pending performance in on-farm drought stress trials.
Increasing agriculture productivity to meet the growing global demand for food must be accompanied by an intense, innovative effort to enhance the environmental imprint of farming and be sustainable, says DuPont executive vice president James Borel.
“Drought-tolerance technologies are part of the next great wave of agricultural innovation that will improve agronomic characteristics of plants so they more efficiently use available
resources,” Borel explains. “They will further empower farmers with better product choices to meet growing demand while reducing their environmental footprint.”
Many environmental factors can reduce agriculture productivity, but drought is by far the most damaging. In 2009 alone, drought cost farmers $14 billion worldwide. Eighty-five percent of the U.S. corn crop is affected by drought stress at some time during the growing season each year, and just four days of severe drought stress during the peak of summer can cut yields in half.
Pioneer has been breeding corn hybrids for drought tolerance for more than 50 years and has more than doubled yields under drought stress during the past three decades. These new products, which were developed with the proprietary Accelerated Yield Technology (AYT), are demonstrating on average a greater than 6% yield advantage, compared with leading competitive products under drought stress, says Joe Keaschall, Pioneer’s maize research director.