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Farmers are so difficult to satisfy. It is too wet or too dry, too hot or too cold, the price is either too low or too high. If fact, if everything was perfect, you would still not see most producers doing cartwheels, rather you would get a shrug of the shoulders, a smile, and a “not too bad” when you ask how things are going.

In an effort to give growers what they want, seed companies are spending billions of dollars in research to develop the traits for which growers are looking.After the drought of 2011, growers wanted corn that did not need much water to grow. Thanks to biotechnology, we now have several drought tolerant hybrids on the market. With torrential rains flooding fields across the Eastern Corn Belt and submerging young corn and soybean plants for weeks, growers are now asking for flood tolerant seeds.  Several research trials are currently underway to develop crops that grow underwater.

One of the miracles of biotechnology is the ability to take the characteristic of one plant and combine it with another plant. This is being attempted with corn. Genes from the rice plant and from seaweed are being placed into hybrid corn. This produces a plant that can survive and even thrive underwater. The seeds are drilled into a moist seed bed, and then the field is flooded. Early plant growth up to the V6 stage can take place totally underwater.  Once the plants break above the surface of the water, they pollinate and begin grain fill. Combines placed on pontoons are used for harvest. Much of the early field trials are taking place in the swamps of Louisiana.  So far, the biggest problem is dry down. “It takes one heck of a lot of propane to dry down corn from 75%,” said one Louisiana farmer involved in growing a test plot.  Companies involved in this research include Poseidon Hybrids and Atlantis Seeds.

Researchers working on a submersible soybean plant have faced a serious issue, the soybean plant does not like water all that much. Soybeans do not do well when their roots are submerged in water. The soybean plant is also very light sensitive which is another reason it does not do well underwater.  These plant breeders have chosen to pair the soybean plant with other plants that do well in a wide variety of conditions.  Early efforts have come up with several unusual combinations such as soybeans and Palmer Amaranth. Early trials have shown this is a plant that will grow just about anywhere. It also has the added advantage of having built in Glyphosate resistance so it will work in a Roundup system.  The major drawback is you cannot use it in a rotation system. No matter what a farmer does it keeps coming back year after year.

The California drought has also sparked some innovative research aimed at the other end of the moisture spectrum. Biotech researchers have combined genes from oats into grape plants. The resulting crop does not require irrigation and, when harvested, produces a mixture of oats and raisins which perfect for the breakfast cereal and cookie market.

Because none of the information above is actually true, these products will not make it to market. So, farmers will have to keep doing what they have always done: find a way to survive no matter what nature sends our way.

By Gary Truitt