Drought-Tolerant Hybrid Technology Ramping Up
"I don't think we are yet at a point where we can plan for drought," he said. "We need to plan for a good year and select hybrids based on that with the comfort of knowing modern hybrids can withstand drought better than in the past."
Like other seed companies, Monsanto has promoted native trait selected hybrids with drought tolerance. Their introduction of Genuity DroughtGard this season launches a new era as the first to include a transgenic gene for drought resistance. Mark Lawson, yield and stress lead, Monsanto, noted that a limited volume was available this first year. The hybrids that carried it had already been highly rated for drought tolerance. However, the new trait took that tolerance a step further, according to Lawson.
"Under drought stress before pollination, the DeKalb DroughtGard hybrids slow down the rate at which they pull water out of the soil, banking moisture for later," he explained. "This extra water can be used for pollination and seed set to give a greater yield opportunity. However, you still need rain to turn it into true yield."
PHOTO COURTESY OF MYCOGEN SEEDSEvaluating hybrid drought tolerance is difficult. One hybrid under drought stress may roll leaves early season, but it may handle flowering stress better and out yield one that didn’t roll its leaves. Monsanto has launched the new trait in the western Great Plains from South Dakota to Texas. Initially, DuPont Pioneer's AQUAmax hybrids are focused mainly on the western Corn Belt, though they will be developed in some lines throughout the market. In 2012, Syngenta offered Agrisure Artesian in nine hybrids across the entire Corn Belt. A substantial percent of available volume was in genetics that best fit the central and eastern Corn Belt.
"Demand was very strong, and those hybrids went fairly fast," said Duane Martin, product lead, Commercial Traits, Syngenta. "Due to the 2012 drought and the exceptional performance of the Agrisure Artesian hybrids this past year, central and eastern growers were equally enthused as those in the western Corn Belt."
EXPANDING CORN'S REACH
Joel Ransom knew his North Dakota growers were not likely to be the earliest beneficiaries of the newest technology in the early maturing hybrids adapted to much of the state. The NDSU extension agronomist recognized that even when growers in northern and western North Dakota are pushing the envelope for water stress, they may not be first on anyone's list. That said, in a state where corn was an anomaly in most counties only a few decades ago, North Dakota enjoyed two national winners in the 2012 National Corn Growers Yield Contest. Jamie Gorder, Wahpeton, N.D., took second in the non-irrigated division. Mike Pikarski, Mooreton, N.D., placed third in no-till/strip-till non-irrigated division at 294.8 bushels. Both were Pioneer hybrids. Although yields are considerably less in most areas, corn can now be found in every county.