Dow AgroSciences is making substantial progress with field tests leading to the launch of new trait technologies in the company's research and development pipeline, reports Tom Wiltrout, Dow AgroSciences global seeds leader. Multilocation testing is under way on SmartStax, the industry's first-ever eight-gene trait combination in corn, as well as on Dow AgroSciences Herbicide Tolerance traits for corn and soybeans.

SmartStax performance tests
"We are completing rigorous performance trials under an Experimental Use Permit as we move toward commercial availability of SmartStax in 2010," Wiltrout says. "Trials are taking place in cooperation with Mycogen Seeds at 30 sites throughout the Corn Belt. These sites represent a variety of soil and climate conditions to ensure the traits perform as expected.

"We are comparing the performance of SmartStax against other individual traits, trait combinations and nontraited controls. Research includes efficacy of insect control, both above and below ground."

All individual traits contained in SmartStax already have U.S. regulatory approval, and in June the regulatory package for SmartStax was submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The revolutionary trait platform will integrate multiple insect protection and herbicide tolerance traits to help growers maximize corn yield potential.

Late planting caused by wet weather in much of the Midwest has not slowed field testing for SmartStax, says Doug Barker, Dow AgroSciences research and development project lead for the new trait combination. "We lost a few of our trials due to flooding, but in most areas, the crop looks very good and trials are proceeding as planned," he says.

Hybrid evaluations
Upon approval, SmartStax will be offered by Dow AgroSciences in selected Mycogen brand hybrids. Along with testing the trait technologies, Dow AgroSciences and Mycogen Seeds are conducting genetics evaluations with corn hybrids that are candidates to carry the SmartStax trait combination. The first large wave of SmartStax inbred conversions are scheduled for completion this fall -- the final step before commercial seed production begins.

"Hybrid trials are under way at more than 250 U.S. locations, evaluating yield as well as agronomic performance factors like root and stalk quality," Wiltrout says. Results of these genetics evaluations will determine which of a select group of Mycogen brand hybrids will be launched with the SmartStax trait combination.

To ensure adequate seed production to meet anticipated demand for hybrids containing SmartStax, Mycogen Seeds will produce parent seed stock at breeding facilities in Hawaii, Puerto Rico and South America, where production takes place year-round.

DHT testing update
Regulatory trials are under way with Dow AgroSciences Herbicide Tolerance (DHT) traits-the next platform of traits in the company's pipeline. Announced at the Farm Progress Show a year ago, these traits will provide tolerance to broadleaf and grass herbicides, including 2,4-D and "fop" herbicides. The company expects to launch DHT corn traits as early as 2012, with soybeans and cotton to follow in 2013.

"The market's need for new, effective weed control tools is evident through the increasing number of weeds that are reported as hard to control or resistant to glyphosate," Wiltrout says. "By incorporating proven, broad-spectrum herbicides with different modes of action in glyphosate-based weed control systems, we can develop an effective weed resistance management system to sustain this valued technology."

Field evaluation of DHT traits in corn, soybeans and cotton expanded greatly in 2008, with more than 90 different regulated trials currently taking place across the United States.Scientists are evaluating gene performance in different environments and with multiple germplasms, looking at crop yields, agronomics delivery and performance of multiple trait stacks.

Dow AgroSciences expects to complete regulatory trials this year for DHT corn and soybeans traits, with submission of U.S. and global regulatory packages planned for 2009.

"Our field scientists are excited by the continued performance of our lead concepts in corn and soybeans. Even though poor weather delayed establishment of some trials, performance of these traits under extreme conditions provides the type of testing that ensures we bring the most robust traits to market," Wiltrout says.

Fast track timeline
Wiltrout adds that Dow AgroSciences Herbicide Tolerance Traits will be combined with SmartStax in corn and stacked with other market-leading technologies. Work continues toward expanding DHT technologies beyond corn, soybeans and cotton to additional crops as well.

"Our goal is to bring these new traits to growers on as short a timeline as possible to improve crop yields more quickly," Wiltrout says. "Developing so many new traits in multiple crops simultaneously is unprecedented, but speaks to the commitment that Dow AgroSciences has made to enhance crop yields by bringing leading-edge technology to market," Wiltrout adds.