Developing drought-tolerant corn hybrids
The experiments must also be conducted at the correct time during the corn’s life cycle. Researchers are interested in what is happening during specific plant processes in specific tissues at a critical stage (such as flowering, grain fill, etc). As an example, UV (ultra-violet light) sensors and infrared sensors are often used to create images that allow researchers to “measure” the temperature of the plants. With UV light, the plants that appear purple in the picture tend to be cooler than those that are red or yellow.
Breeders also look for specific DNA markers in plants that exhibit drought tolerance. These markers are then used to plan specific crosses to “stack” multiple drought related traits into drought tolerant hybrids. This approach of carefully controlled environments, DNA work, and detailed field observation is called “precision phenotyping.”
Is Drought Tolerant Corn Right for Your Operation?
Even though drought tolerant corn offers some advantages, care should be taken to determine whether these particular hybrids are suitable for your farming operation. Drought tolerant corn does not offer a yield advantage over other hybrids under irrigated or well-watered conditions. Drought tolerant corn will not grow without water; it simply performs better than other hybrids under limited-water conditions.
It is also important to note drought tolerant corn varieties vary in the way they handle drought. Genetics affect different physiological processes involved in water use so no one variety will work well across all drought ridden environments. Currently, hybrids are best suited for dry land or fields with marginal soil and climate conditions for corn production (areas that typically yield 100-140 bu/ac or lower). This seed will be higher priced due to the new traits and its limited availability. Before purchasing these hybrids, carefully think through the environmental conditions in your particular field(s), look at the genetics offered by the hybrids, and weigh the cost versus the benefits they can provide to your operation.