Right on Target

January 10, 2009 12:33 PM

Forget one-size-fits-all seed strategies. Genetic diversity is where it's at in today's roller-coaster production and economic climate, says Frank Ross, vice president of North American operations for Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc.

"We think 2009 will be just as volatile as the past two years. There's no way to outguess this kind of volatility, so we're going to continue to drive hard on productivity," Ross says. Pioneer's top management team recently met with Farm Journal editors to unveil new products and strategies for the coming years.

Putting the right product on the right acre sums up the current philosophy, Ross says. "The wild weather during the 2008 season showed us why growers need a diverse mix of products.

"Those who fared well this season had some products that dried down early, some that had great late-season strength and some that fell in the middle. It's not just about maturity or even which products have the most traits—we are developing products for specific cropping systems that take genetics, technology, management and the local environment into consideration," Ross says.

The magical hybrid (or variety) that works everywhere doesn't exist because growing seasons vary too much.

"As seed technologies advance, matching specific genetic technologies to individual management practices and fields will become increasingly important," he observes.

"Our goal is also to spend more time with each customer so they understand our products and technology," Ross says. To facilitate the exchange, Pioneer has added 250 points of sale in the past year, including more agronomists. Growers have access to mapping and record-keeping services plus crop insurance (in select markets) aimed at helping Pioneer deliver science with service, he notes.

The right product on the right acre means combining germplasm strength and trait stability to create a product portfolio. Yields have grown by 20% in the past 10 years, but Ross expects another 40% yield bump in both corn and soybeans during the next decade, thanks to new genetic tools and advanced testing techniques. "A decade ago, 5% of every dollar of sales went to research.

Today, we are spending 11% to 12% of every dollar," he says.

The payoff for that investment is already showing up at the farm gate in products such as the new Y Series soybeans, which were developed through Pioneer's exclusive Accelerated Yield Technology (AYT) program. In 2009, Pioneer expects this new high-yield soybean technology will be planted on 9 million acres—that's one-third of Pioneer's soybean product portfolio. It's the largest launch in Pioneer's history.

Put the word "optimum" in your vocabulary. It's a new Pioneer brand that stands for traits that deliver choice and productivity. Soybeans containing Optimum GAT herbicide-tolerance (ALS plus glyphosate) with "Y" genetics as the platform will debut in demonstration plots in 2009 and 2010, with a commercial launch in 2011. U.S.

approvals of corn are expected in 2009, and you'll see GAT- and Herculex-tolerant stacks in corn in 2011.

New complementary ALS herbicides will allow growers to take advantage of GAT, says Wayne Shoemaker of DuPont Crop Protection, Pioneer's parent company. Herbicides such as DuPont Traverse, Instigate, Trigate, Diligent and Freestyle will be demonstrated in test plots in 2009. Both Traverse and Freestyle can be used in corn and soybeans. "We're trying to offer choice and flexibility," Shoemaker says.

Pending regulatory approval, Optimum AcreMax 1 Insect Protection will be the first phase of a system designed to eliminate a separate corn rootworm refuge by combining in one bag a hybrid with Herculex XTRA at a high percentage with the same base hybrid containing the Herculex I trait at a very low percentage. The seeds will also be glyphosate and glufosinate tolerant and be coated with seed treatment. Watch for key launches in 2010.

In 2012, another generation of refuge reduction products, labeled Optimum AcreMax 2, is expected to be available and will combine YieldGard corn borer with Herculex XTRA. Once approved, this will allow farmers to meet their refuge requirements with a single product. Pioneer has also licensed the MIR162 trait called Viptera from Syngenta and plans to deliver this unique mode of action against lepidopteran pests to growers.

Read the Web Extra.

You can e-mail Pam Smith at psmith@farmjournal.com.

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