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DuPont Pioneer customers are asking for drought tolerant corn hybrids

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 03/20/2013 9:05 AM

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JOHNSTON, Iowa —With one of the worst droughts in history behind them, farmers from North Dakota to Texas are asking about drought tolerant options, said Reed Mayberry, DuPont Pioneer senior marketing manager for corn.

At a recent DuPont Pioneer media day in Johnston, Mayberry said he expects to see Optimum AQUAmax planted on more than six million acres in 2013, or about 6 percent of U.S. corn crop.

Drought-tolerant corn, which used to be targeted to the West, is now an option farmers in Iowa, Illinois and eastern Nebraska are asking about.

"Water availability is the most intensive stress affecting crop yield," Mayberry said. "Annual crop loss to drought is $5 billion in the United States and $13 billion worldwide. Drought tolerance is a complex system with multiple genes and solutions. There is no one silver bullet."

DuPont Pioneer has targeted drought traits for more than 80 years in its corn breeding efforts starting its first drought-specific program in York, Neb., in the mid-1950s. It now has nine dedicated drought research facilities in the United States and one in Chile.

Through managed environment testing, researchers undertake varying levels of drought stress throughout the growing year, Mayberry said. Through irrigation they control moisture on plots and select native traits important to drought tolerance.

"There is clear identification of genetic variations for such things as silk emergence, rooting depth and leaf rolling and firing," Mayberry said.

Pioneer's Intensive Managed Product Advancement Characterization and Training testing on more than 2,000 plots across the United States compares pre-commerical, commercial and competitor products. The company's Accelerated Yield Technology allows for rapid scanning and identification of specific traits.

In 2012, AQUAmax provided a visual demonstration in the field, Mayberry said. He showed side by side pictures of AQUAmax's delayed leaf-rolling ability, minimal leaf firing, better ability to stay green and improved kernel tip fill compared to competitive checks.

Optimum AQUAmax demonstrated an 8.9 percent yield advantage in 2012, or 8.5 bushels per acre, in water-limited conditions 69 percent of the time on 3,600 plots, Mayberry said. In conditions where there was adequate moisture, it provided a 1.9 percent yield advantage of 4.2 bushels per acre on 7,600 side by sides.

For 2013, AQUAmax products have doubled from 22 to 44 with hybrids available in 89 to 115-day maturities.

DuPont Pioneer uses lessons learned in improving corn performance in drought environments to make soybean varieties perform better when water supply is limited, said Les Kuhlman, senior research scientist and manager of the company's Lawrence, Kan., Soybean Breeding Program.

"All the drought research DuPont Pioneer has conducted in corn is helping breeders improve soybeans," Kuhlman said. "We're able to leverage a lot of corn knowledge so we can start ahead of where we would be if they hadn't already done this groundwork."

Another advantage is data from wide-ranging IMPACT test plots, Kuhlman said. The plots provide crucial data under local conditions across the country. The trials show how different regions handle a lack of rain differently. Like yield, drought is a complex issue involving the interaction of many genes.