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Drought-tolerant corn coming as early as next year, company says

Agriculture.com Staff 07/14/2009 @ 8:09am

In as early as 2010, corn farmers may have a big-time new tool in their crop toolbox: Drought tolerance.

Officials with Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., announced this week plans to accelerate the company's Accelerated Yield Technology (AYT) research on drought tolerance, with a goal of 2010 for bringing the product to market. The timetable is pending on-farm drought stress trials, officials say.

The new corn hybrids, known as Drought I on the Pioneer Research and Development pipeline, contain native corn drought-tolerance genes that have been identified through marker-assisted selection and advanced into elite genetics using the tools of AYT. The hybrids will be marketed in dryland and limited-irrigation growing environments of the western Corn Belt where yield expectations typically are lower due to lack of adequate rainfall and available water.

Drought I corn hybrids will be developed using native drought-tolerance traits, therefore they will not require regulatory approvals for commercialization or export, officials say.

"This is a huge step-change in a corn plant's ability to yield with less water," says Pioneer senior research manager Jeff Schussler. "Two main factors in improving drought tolerance are a plant's resource capture and its resource utilization. Through our multifaceted research, we have identified genes that allow the corn plant to significantly improve in both areas -- the plant's ability to capture more resources such as water, sunlight and nutrients and to allow for better utilization -- in other words, improving the plant's effectiveness in using resources."


Jeff Schussler, Pioneer Hi-Bred research scientist, discusses Pioneer's efforts to develop drought-tolerant corn (video by Gil Gullickson).

Yield improvement targets for Drought I corn hybrids are 5% to 10% better than leader hybrids currently available in these limited-water environments, Schussler says. Hybrids with improved drought-stress tolerance also may enable farmers to expand their corn acres by planting them in more arid conditions that typically only support the production of wheat, cotton or sorghum.

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