September 1, 2009 07:00 PM

Rain may make grain, but new seed technology is on the way to help boost yields in areas plagued by drought conditions.

Pioneer Hi-Bred expects to launch its first drought-tolerant corn hybrids in 2010, pending on-farm trials. The new hybrids, currently dubbed Drought I, contain native corn drought-tolerance genes that have been identified through marker-assisted selection and have advanced into elite genetics using Accelerated Yield Technology. These corn hybrids will be marketed in dryland and limited-irrigation growing environments in the western Corn Belt. Regulatory approvals for commercialization and export will not be needed because the hybrids use native drought-tolerance traits.

Jeff Schussler, Pioneer senior research manager, says the two main factors in improving drought tolerance are a plant's resource capture and its resource utilization. "We have identified genes that
allow the corn plant to significantly improve its ability to capture more resources, such as water, sunlight and nutrients, and to allow for better utilization,” he says.

The company's yield improvement targets for Drought I corn hybrids are 5% to 10% better than the leading hybrids available in limited-water environments. It's estimated that one-third of the North American corn crop has yield loss due to water limitations.

"Drought is a complex trait and one that is tied directly to corn yield, which in itself has many contributing factors,” Schussler says. "Our research focuses on aspects such as improving root systems or increasing the plant's ability for silks to emerge during drought stress. We have to modify the corn plant's natural conservative tendencies and instead produce more grain per inch of water. Research has allowed us to strike a balance, creating energy for an improved root system while avoiding a potential negative impact on the development and yield,” he adds.

On the horizon are Drought II drought-tolerant hybrids, which will combine native tolerance with transgenic improvements to deliver higher yields in all environments. Drought II hybrids are expected to be commercialized in five to seven years. Pioneer research trials of Drought II hybrids in 2008 yielded up to 16% more than its elite conventional isolines under drought stress and showed an 8% yield increase across all environments in three years of trials.

Weed Guide to the Rescue

he difference between a weed and a flower is often a matter of judgment. Farmers now have a new resource, Weeds of the South, to help in identification. A Midwest version of the book is due out in spring 2010.

Drawing on the expertise of more than 40 weed scientists and botanists, the book's editors, Charles Bryson and Michael DeFelice, identify 400 of the most troublesome weedy and invasive plants to plague the South.

Weeds of the South

Weed management depends on early and accurate identification. This book emphasizes the seedling stage to allow you to get a jump on offenders.

Bryson is a research botanist for USDA–Agricultural Research Service at the Southern Weed Science Research Unit in Stoneville, Miss. DeFelice is a
senior manager at Pioneer Hi-Bred. Published by the University of Georgia Press in cooperation with the Southern Weed Science Society, the book ($39.95) can be ordered from the publisher (; 800-266-5842) or

identifies each weed with photographs showing the seed, seedling, plant and flower stages—along with a distribution map and special identifying characteristics.

Seeing Double

Farmers looking to push population beyond 30" rows may want to consider different plant arrangements. This past spring, seed company Channel Bio Corporation partnered with Monosem Inc. to test twin rows with an eye toward increasing plant density. Despite a challenging wet spring, the company cooperated with 52 farmers in Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas to plant 7,902 acres of twin-row plots with Monosem and Kinze planters.

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