Syngenta has confidence in its drought-tolerant hybrids with Agrisure Artesian technology outperforming standard hybrids and other drought-tolerant hybrids on the market, according to Wayne Fithian, Syngenta technical product lead for Agrisure Artesian technology.

Unless the area of the country had one of the most extreme drought situations where crops simply could not grow, Fithian said Agrisure Artesian technology will show its strength in improving yields. The company is using the phrase “maximize yield when it rains, and increase yield up to 15 percent when it doesn’t.”

Confidence in drought-tolerant corn performanceThere are more than 800 locations where Artesian hybrids have been planted from the Northeast to the High Plains, and more than 80 percent of those acreages were planted by farmers, not researchers. Fithian admitted that the highest yields don’t always come from the prettiest looking plants that you see driving down the road. But with the Artesian hybrids, he said, “I’m confident if it looks better from the road then when the combine goes through the field the yield will be there, too.”

Validation that Artesian hybrids could meet that 15 percent increase in yield was proven in research and development prior to releasing hybrids for farmer planting. “All our validation work is based on yield under moderate to extreme drought,” Fithian said. And yield advantage is “based on the robustness of our data package.”

Drought-resistant hybrids come from three complex breeding approaches:

1)      Traditional breeding with marker-assisted gene selection.

2)      Native gene breeding techniques to bring selected genes from parents into a hybrid.

3)      Genetic modification for a genetically engineered hybrid.

The current Agrisure Artesian technology hybrids are the result of using number one and two from the breeding approaches. It won’t be until at least 2015 before Syngenta anticipates having a GM drought-tolerant hybrid.

Syngenta has developed hybrids for more than just the most likely drought areas by cross breeding of hybrids that performed best for specific locations and also were identified as having characteristics for performing well in low-water conditions, according to Fithian. The marker assisted aspect allowed selecting hybrids with the specific genes that would positively impact yield when the plant was under stress. Individual genes were identified as necessary to be in the Artesian hybrids.

Syngenta’s technology process was different than some other breeding, Fithian further explained. In some cases, having a whole “section of chromosome,” instead of picking specific genes in the breeding process, results in negative genes coming along for the ride. Those genes could actually work against yield improvement and/or drought tolerance. Those negative genes were not pulled along in the Artesian breeding process.

Fithian said, Artesian was developed using a “combination of validated genes, which allows us to say multiple modes of action” for improving yield in drought conditions or more normal weather. “There is no downside to these hybrids,” he said.

Heat tolerance and drought tolerance are two different things, and Syngenta as well as other hybrid corn companies have not seemed to tackle the heat tolerance aspect very much to this point. But Fithian noted how “heat stress is what a plant experiences when it is under drought stress.” This means there definitely is a lot of correlation between a hybrid tolerating drought and also tolerating heat. Additional study of the extreme heat impact will continue, and this year has been one to allow some inroads into the investigation between what genes help the plant control heat stress and ones that help control drought stress.

The proof on yield advantage is yet to come, but harvest is beginning quite early this year because of an early spring and all the heat units that rapidly matured the crop.