A New Look Southward

March 14, 2010 07:00 PM

Pioneer Hi-Bred's newest foray into Southern corn and soybean research could have benefits for farmers nationwide in addition to developing genetics for specific Coastal Plains conditions, says Arlo Thompson, the company's research director based in Bloomington, Ill.

With a new research station located in Kinston, N.C., joining the company's Cairo, Ga., and Union City, Tenn., facilities, Pioneer now covers the South's basic geographic areas. "We decided we need to put more energy and focus on the Southern corn and soybean market. This facility will also tie in with our national research in terms of work on drought tolerance,” Thompson explains.

Both old-style plant breeding and transgenic techniques will be used to develop the drought-tolerant lines.

"Our drought initiative is first based on native trait exploitation,” Thompson says. "The more intense focus there has been on the High Plains, where we had a 2009 rollout. With native traits, we will breed for geography. We're making a real effort at putting this into the North Carolina work. We'll bring the transgenic piece in when we're comfortable.”

Microclimate options. For now, drought tolerance will be the company's big focus at Kinston. "The eastern Coastal Plains area has lighter sandy soils than in much of the South. There are also good soils closer to the shore, blacklands, with high production potential, as well. There are a number of micro-climate areas that make it very interesting,” Thompson says.

Pioneer already has four corn researchers working in the Kinston location. A soybean breeder, along with additional support staff, will be in place in 2011.

Unique needs. In addition to drought tolerance, heat tolerance and disease resistance in corn will also be major research efforts at the facilities.

"The South has unique needs from a development point of view. Dryland production areas are different from other areas where there is a lot of irrigation. There is a high concentration of corn in the light sandier soils of the eastern Coastal Plains. It is different from the corn grown in other areas of the Coastal Plains and the lower Mississippi Delta, where there is also a lot of irrigation and good soils,” Thompson explains.

"Disease resistance is always a concern from our point of view, as are insects. We'll be doing additional screening for that. The extent to which we ramp that up is yet to be determined. We'll see what the micro-environmental conditions allow us to do,” he adds.

Heat tolerance for crops will also be a focus at the new station.

"In the eastern Coastal Plains, there are clearly not the same types of conditions that exist in other areas of the country. The heat comes on at different times of the year. We'll have a slightly different focus on heat tolerance at Kinston, but we will be looking at the different components of heat tolerance,” Thompson says.

Focus on soybean nematodes. With soybeans, the company will do a good deal of its nematode resistance work in the South. "That will be a significant part of testing with soybeans. The soybean cyst nematode problem is well-known and we'll be working on that,” Thompson says.

In addition, he expects that researchers will screen for nematode resistance in corn. "We're hearing more about nematodes in corn, and there is a lot more interest in what's out there. We will work to define the problem in that area. What is the impact of nematodes in corn? The issue is just now being more reported,” Thompson says.

You can e-mail Charles Johnson at cjohnson@farmjournal.com.

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