Drought Tolerant Corn Adoption Mimics Herbicide Tolerance Adoption

Drought took a toll on Missouri crops in 2018, including this corn field in Ray County, near the town of Hardin. (July 2018) ( Tyne Morgan )

Corn seed with drought tolerance was first introduced in 2011—just before a historic drought would wipe out millions of bushels of the crop in 2012. Since its introduction, drought tolerant varieties have evolved in adoption and how they’re created, according to USDA.

The first drought tolerant products were produced using traditional breeding techniques. Just a year later, 2012, genetically engineer hybrids were introduced. “The vast majority of drought tolerant corn planted in 2016 [the most recent year in the study] had one or more GE traits,” according to the report.

Key findings in the report:

  • Twenty-two percent of corn was drought tolerant in 2016. In 2012 it was only 2% of all planted acres, this shows a pace of adoption similar to herbicide-tolerant corn in the early 2000s.
  • Forty percent of corn in drought-prone states was drought tolerant. Nebraska hit 42% and Kansas 39%. These and other states had at least one severe drought from 2011 to 2015.
  • Most drought tolerant corn was produced with traditional breeding techniques. About 80% of 2016’s drought tolerant corn acres used traditional breeding and just under 20% used genetically engineered drought tolerance.
  • Nearly all drought tolerant corn included GMO traits for herbicide resistance, insect resistance or both. In 2016 91% of drought tolerant planted acres had these traits.
  • Farmers using drought tolerant hybrids have the tendency to use more conservation tillage practices in 2016. Specifically, about 41% used no-till and 62% overall used conservation tillage.

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USDA used data from the Agricultural Resource Management Survey, which draws on field level data from the 2016 survey of corn producers. It represents 88% of U.S. planted acres that year.