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The one thing: water

Agriculture.com Staff 07/25/2006 @ 9:26am

There's a line by actor Jack Palance in the movie "City Slickers" that that revolves around the "One Thing" that reflects your passion in life. If the One Thing could be applied to agriculture, it would be water.

That's what Ted Crosbie, global plant breeding vice president for Monsanto, recently told farmers attending a Monsanto field day near Atlantic, Iowa. Farmers tend to be religious people, he says, and that comes out in their attitude toward rain.

"They'll say, 'Thank God the rain came,'" he says. "Farming is really about water and rain."

Roots are an important factor in accessing what moisture lies in the soil. "Currently, the effective root zone is the top 2 feet," says Crosbie. "Plants have to do a good job of rooting down in there."

Soil insecticides and corn rootworm resistance hybrids are both ways to protect corn roots from corn rootworm damage. However, Crosbie says Monsanto's rootworm resistant product (YieldGard Rootworm) has an edge in that it doesn't have activation and placement issues like a soil-applied insecticide.

"The rootworm has to run into an activated insecticide," he says. "If the insecticide is not activated or the rootworm doesn't come into contact with it, it doesn't die."

Meanwhile, proteins present in corn rootworm resistant hybrids are spread throughout the roots, ensuring rootworms will ingest it as they nibble on roots. Crosbie says the root mass of Monsanto's YieldGard RW corn also tends to be larger than insecticide-treated corn, enabling the plant to take up to 3 inches more water in a growing season.

"It's like having a 3-inch rain," he says. "Corn produces 7 to 10 bushels per inch of rain, so the value of a 3-inch rain can be $25 an acre."

Monsanto is also developing drought-tolerant hybrids that would be a significant improvement over existing hybrids in dry years. Monsanto officials believe such hybrids will be ready between 2010 and 2012.

Dave Rhylander, director of traits for Monsanto, sees drought-tolerant corn fitting in a couple ways.

"In areas like western Kansas, will reduce the amount of water you can use with irrigation and still not lose yield," he says. It will help irrigation be more efficient."

Meanwhile, dryland farmers will find they can get a yield increase with the same mount of rain. "Drought tolerant genes will help uncover the leaf," points out John Jansen, corn traits marketing manager for Monsanto. "You don't want a rolled up leaf at the start of the day."

Crosbie also says drought-tolerant corn will help get the crop through some tough periods. "It will help get the extra 10 to 20 bushels an acre to make the plant go though the one week, two weeks, three weeks, when it doesn't rain," he says.

There's a line by actor Jack Palance in the movie "City Slickers" that that revolves around the "One Thing" that reflects your passion in life. If the One Thing could be applied to agriculture, it would be water.

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