Last summer I headed to sunny California to look at the natives. DuPont business Pioneer Hi-Bred runs a research center outside of Woodland, Calif., where they can measure every drop of water delivered to a corn plant. The idea is to determine hybrids that inherently tolerate drought and/or utilize water better.
Pioneer officials hinted at the time that the company would likely release a new generation of drought tolerant hybrids in 2011, depending on harvest results. Earlier this month, the company unveiled a limited launch will indeed take place in 2011, under the label Optimum AQUAmax.
These new water efficient hybrids contain a collection of native corn traits that improve water access and utilization. The company began advancing these specific hybrids in 2008. From 2008 to 2010, Optimum AQUAmax hybrids were tested in 223 water-limited efficiency trials concentrated in Nebraska, California, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas.
Jeff Schussler, Pioneer Senior Research Manager, Maize Stress Product Development, says these hybrids partition water more efficiently to provide more economic return to the grower.
“Drought is a complex issue. There is no single gene or silver bullet for the drought complex,” Schussler adds. “Pioneer has been dedicated to drought tolerance research since 1957. During the last decade, new tools, including molecular breeding techniques, have allowed us to rapidly scan and identify the genes responsible for increasing yields and other beneficial traits.”
What fascinated me was how much native variation there is when it comes to water utilization. See for yourself in this video where Schussler shows the ears from two hybrids—one with tolerance and one without—and you can see just how much more yield this new generation of corn hybrids might deliver.