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New machine simulates effects of high winds on corn stalks, roots

Agriculture.com Staff 02/25/2009 @ 7:19am

DuPont recently unveiled a mobile wind machines that test the ability of experimental corn hybrids to withstand violent windstorms that typically cause significant standability issues and subsequent yield loss, according to a company report.

Nicknamed Boreas -- a name inspired by the Greek god of the cold north wind -- the machine helps scientists at DuPont's Pioneer Hi-Bred International test plots work to improve the standability of Pioneer corn hybrids by producing turbulent winds exceeding 100 miles per hour. These 20-ton mobile wind machines are the newest tool in the company's Accelerated Yield Technology (AYTTM) system toolbox and a critical component of the Pioneer commitment to increase corn yields 40% within the next nine years.

"Pioneer researchers can't always rely on Mother Nature to deliver the severe weather they need at the exact location of our research trials to test for the stresses our customers face," says Pioneer senior research director Geoff Graham. "We created machines to bring the 'storm of the decade' to our research fields across the country each season to identify hybrids with the best standability in the most difficult growing conditions."

Standability is one of the biggest challenges farmers face as more seeds are planted to each acre. Approximately 20% to 30% of the corn acres in North America can be impacted by root lodging, stalk lodging or brittle snap each year. Root lodging occurs when environmental forces exceed the ability of the root system to support the plant, causing the entire cornstalk to lean or fall. Stalk lodging is the breakage of cornstalks below the ear. Brittle snap refers to breakage of cornstalks by violent winds, usually during periods of fast growth.

Pioneer is utilizing Boreas to improve corn standability as it pushes corn yields and plant populations even higher.

Prior to Boreas, researchers depended on natural storm events and mechanical "push" tests, which used a bar or other instrument to physically push the corn to simulate damage due to high winds. Boreas represents a revolutionary transformation in how Pioneer plant researchers approach field research studies for standability traits by imitating the variety and intensity of winds that occur during violent storms.

"We are going to extraordinary measures to help our customers achieve industry-leading yields in the face of unpredictable and extreme growing conditions, including severe thunderstorms," said Graham. "This is one of the ways we will more than double the annual rate of corn yield gain between now and 2018."

Pioneer scientists began using Boreas five years ago, but have kept the technology under wraps until patents were filed. Today, Pioneer scientists are using multiple trait-specific machines to screen for root lodging, stalk lodging and brittle snap. Testing is conducted across multiple environments and developmental stages throughout North America and compared with natural weather events to ensure the viability and predictability of the data.

DuPont recently unveiled a mobile wind machines that test the ability of experimental corn hybrids to withstand violent windstorms that typically cause significant standability issues and subsequent yield loss, according to a company report.

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