Corn hybrids definitely will continue to be improved with conventional breeding and biotechnology to provide insect resistance, disease tolerance, herbicide tolerance and to contend with abiotic stress. This is all being combined with high-yielding germplasm to increase yield potential. There are few completely new breeding or biotechnology improvements that parent companies for seed research are confident will be in the marketplace within five years. But read what the major crop protection companies that own corn seed companies and finance trait discovery research are doing to introduce improved corn hybrids between now and 2025.
Syngenta has basically taken the past five years to apply germplasm available from the Golden Harvest, Garst and NK brands to develop hybrids with the best of each into the hybrid off ers that will be sold by Golden Harvest and NK in the future.
“As we look toward 2015, we are incorporating the Enogen trait into our portfolio of hybrids to make sure that we can offer solutions to the farmers who are growing corn for ethanol and adding value for the ethanol production plant,” said Pat Steiner, Syngenta, head of corn portfolio, North America. Enogen hybrids deliver alpha amylase enzyme in the corn kernel and help provide additional ethanol production from a bushel of corn and are currently on the market in a limited number of hybrids.
Hybrids with Agrisure Artesian water optimization technology have been on the market with hybrid availability in the Western Corn Belt, but there will be a number of these native-trait hybrids for growers in the Eastern Corn Belt beginning in 2014.
“We will have a genetically modified water optimization trait coming out around 2020. This is a GM abiotic stress offer that might be used alone or in combination with the original Agrisure Artesian for added benefit,” said Steiner.
Syngenta launched its refuge-in-a-bag insect-control products in 2013, again these are GM traited seed, and many more hybrids will be refuge-in-a-bag in coming years. Added to the on-the-market traits will be the new Agrisure Duracade brand corn rootworm trait that should be launched for the 2014 crop season.
“We will only off er Agrisure Duracade in combination with other rootworm traits as we want to manage the resistance potential aspect right from the get go,” Steiner said.
“We talk about a system of breeding, biotech and advanced agronomy,” said Hobart Beeghly, Monsanto, global corn technology lead. “It is less thinking about any one trait or any one technology; it is more about the convergence of systems and progressively adding yield potential and protection, kind of like layers.”
But trait advancements are necessary for enacting a wider systems approach. On the horizon is a third-generation rootworm control seed product that will provide “increased control against rootworms with two distinct modes of action,” Beeghly said. “The products (seeds) on the market today are all Bt products; this new product will contain Bt technology as well as another natural process known as RNAi that will control rootworms.”
In talking about disease tolerance seed developments, Beeghly said, “We have always bred for disease tolerance, but we have really amped it up with advanced breeding. A couple key products within disease tolerance would be Goss’s wilt and gray leaf spot.” He noted that more and more acres are being attacked by these two diseases with limited new seed-bred resistance as choices to counter them.
Herbicide tolerance is where Monsanto is definitely expecting to have new corn hybrids on the market by the end of this decade. Roundup Ready Xtend corn “will contain a higher level of dicamba tolerance than corn has today.”
DroughtGuard is the company’s first-generation stress trait to counter low water availability when growing a crop. It was commercially introduced in 2013. Additional hybrid off erings will come from this biotech trait corn in the next couple years.
“We are working on next-generation yield and stress traits that we think are going to have broader utility and yield protection than the DroughtGuard we have out today,” the corn technology leader said. DroughtGuard is a prime example of how Beeghly explained Monsanto’s systems approach to helping farmers grow corn. Over the years, the company has bred high yielding corn with good genetics. Those hybrids with the best water-use efficiency are the base genetics and layered on top of that base are biotech weed control and insect control components. The last biotech layer is the first drought-tolerant gene discovered by Monsanto. Finally, the company provides answers to farmers on exactly how to plant the seed on what acres.
As DuPont Pioneer looks for new seed solutions for farmers growing corn, Reed Mayberry, DuPont Pioneer, senior marketing manager for corn, said, “We are trying to maximize the ROI on the farm and minimize the complexity of the decision that the customer needs to make. Deciding on what traits they need can be an ugly nightmare for some farmers.”
Optimum AcreMax Xtreme was launched this year. It is a stacked dual mode of action seed product for above and below ground insect protection of the corn. It has two modes of action for corn borer control and two modes of action for rootworm control in a refuge-in-a-bag solution. More hybrids with this protection will be offered in the coming year.
Optimum Leptra will be introduced next year in limited launch. It is a product that provides three above ground insect protection traits—Herculex I, YieldGuard Corn Borer and Agrisure Viptera. This means it will have multiple modes of action against a broad spectrum of above-ground pests, including corn borers, fall armyworm and corn earworm.
“We are really targeting this product to growers in the South who need a superior solution for corn earworm and fall armyworm, and that is exactly what Optimum Leptra does,” Mayberry said.
“We are looking at multiple modes of herbicide tolerance for post applications on corn,” which he said are in the early development/advanced development phase. “These products are several years from commercialization but look to provide additional solutions to our customers.”
A drought tolerance second generation product is in development. “We are building off the cornerstone of what we have accomplished with AquaMax, which was initially for customers in the Western Corn Belt, and has migrated for use in the central and eastern parts of corn-growing areas,” he noted.
Nitrogen use efficiency corn is also on the radar for Pioneer, but even though it is one that customers want as much as any product, such a corn is in early phase development. Mayberry said, “I think such corn is a way that we can live up to our core value of environmental stewardship by applying less fertilizer to corn and producing the same or more bushels.”
Ben Kaehler, Dow AgroSciences, U.S. Seeds general manager, notes the emphasis that the company has placed on new hybrids and finding results from conventional breeding and biotech traits.
“Over the last five or six years, Dow AgroSciences has doubled down on our corn breeding program. We have doubled the number of our breeding locations, corn breeders and yield trials, and we are continuing to invest significantly in our genetic research,” Kaehler said.
There is big excitement within the company around introducing the Enlist Weed Control System, which is corn with tolerance to Enlist Duo herbicide, a proprietary blend of glyphosate and new 2,4-D choline, also developed by the company.
Planned commercial introduction of Enlist corn has been moved from 2014 to 2015 because of the United States Department of Agriculture’s requirement for an Environmental Impact Statement.
“When we launch Enlist corn in 2015, pending regulatory approvals, it will be stacked with SmartStax or stacked with Roundup Ready corn,” Kaehler said. “SmartStax with Enlist will give a full complement of insect control plus tolerance to Enlist Duo herbicide, or growers will have the option of hybrids with just herbicide tolerance.”
Kaehler said, “Our other products after Enlist will include some agronomic traits. We have some interesting events for nitrogen utilization as well as water utilization.”
He suggested the 40-year success of N-Serve, nitrogen stabilizer, has given the company insight into nitrogen use by corn, and “now we are looking to take that same knowledge and put it into the plants.”
As for insect protection concepts, Kaehler contends the company is a leader partly because “we have the largest Bt library of any company in the world ... We are looking for the next generation, next evolution for controlling insects by way of the seed.”
It is Kaehler’s contention that by 2020, Dow AgroSciences will still be talking about SmartStax, Herculex and Enlist as the leaders in the industry for their segments of business with farmers.
Tim Zurliene, Bayer CropScience, global corn and soybean trait licensing and management lead, talked about how the acquisition of Athenix allowed the company to become primary in traits discovery and a provider to the corn seed industry.
Bayer through the former Athenix and its connection with seed companies through a joint venture of global seed companies is bringing new traits to the market. The venture is in line to introduce a new glyphosate tolerance trait. As Zurliene explained, “Roundup Ready has the leading position today, but the way to capture some of that value and revenue as a seed company is to have your own proprietary trait.”
Bayer does not own a corn seed company although its Liberty Link herbicide tolerance trait has been in the market for more than a decade for corn and soybeans. Today, Liberty Link is in every corn seed that contains Herculex and/or Bt11 insect control traits.
“We do not have a branded corn seed business on a global basis as of today,” said Zurliene. “But we do have strong competencies in several areas as a trait supplier and partner.”
He noted competencies in seed traits that provide control against lepidoptera, coleoptera and hemiptera insects. Additionally, the company has strong knowledge for nematode control and herbicide tolerance.
Zurliene contends that some companies backed off aggressive investment in insect traits research a few years ago but now have ramped up this research. “The conventional wisdom five years ago was that there was little need for more Bt research; there were great lepidopteraand coleoptera-control products doing quite well in the fields.”
Things have changed today and Bayer has been reacting. “We have some new lepidoptera-control product events coming down the line, and we have some new coleoptera, usually referred to as CRW products coming down the line,” Zurliene said.
BASF does not own a seed company, but it is heavily involved in plant biotechnology as a trait technology partner that works with market leaders in the seed business, historically with Monsanto primarily with corn and soybeans, as well as with other partners in additional crops.
In corn, yield and stress research is the focus for BASF, and DroughtGuard hybrids, being offered through Monsanto, are the fi rst commercial product from the BASF and Monsanto collaboration. Work on a second-generation of drought-tolerant corn is in progress.
“Our collaboration in yield and stress with Monsanto was established in 2007 for corn, soybeans, cotton and canola. It was further expanded in 2010 to include wheat,” explained Dan Bihlmeyer, partner manager with BASF Plant Science.
BASF Plant Science has other collaborations in place and is reaching out to other partners. Fungal resistant corn is a new area of emphasis for BASF; however, this research is in the discovery and proof-of-concept phase and no partner has yet been selected.
“We see fungal traits as another key area for the future. One reason is because we have strong fungal expertise both in our crop protection division and in our plant biotech soybean research, and this complements our focus on yield and stress,” Bihlmeyer said.
Closer to launch are additional biotech traits for higher yielding corn. This intrinsic yield project will benefit corn farmers across the U.S. and is in collaboration with Monsanto. Product launch is expected within the decade, according to Bihlmeyer. He said, “Development is advancing quite well, and we are excited about the opportunity.”