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Drought Puts New Technology to the Test

Kevin Cavanaugh, Director of Research at Beck’s Hybrids

Drought tolerant traits are now available in several major seed brands, and 2012 has certainly put those hybrids to the test.  Dr. Kevin Cavanaugh, Director of Research at Beck’s Hybrids, says that in most cases the technology passed the test, “What I am amazed by is how these hybrids have responded.  A lot of guys are saying their yields are surprising considering what this crop has gone through.”  He admits some fields have not done well because of the lack of moisture and summer heat, but overall it has been better than drought years of the past, “The genetics have improved greatly, so we do not see the bareness we used to.”


This was the first year for wide spread use of Pioneer’s Aquamax hybrids. Mary Gumz, agronomist with Pioneer, says that in her area Aquamax performed reasonably well, “The Aquamax hybrids are putting on a very consistent ear even in drought stress situations.” She said ear size may be reduced because of the drought, but most plants have ears on them and the size is very consistent. She was quick to add, however, that even some fields of Aqua Max that received very little moisture did not perform well, “All corn still needs some water to grow.”  Interest in drought tolerant traits has steadily increased since the drought of 1988, and seed companies have been working hard to develop new hybrids, “Drought tolerance is more complicated,” said Brent Wilson, agronomist and technical services manager for DuPont Pioneer. “You can’t just find a gene that will defeat drought like a bug or weed.” Wilson said Pioneer expects its Aquamax seed to be a major product for the company in future years.


At the Farm Progress show this week, there was a lot of interest in the new technology. “The drought this year has reminded farmers in Iowa that it can happen here, too,” Monsanto Vice President Robert Fraley said as he examined the company’s Droughtgard corn planted in May on the Farm Progress Show grounds.


Cavanaugh says this is just the beginning and that continued improvements will allow crops to do even better when Mother Nature goes to extremes in the future, “There are some tremendous technologies coming out that will provide some amazing drought protection.   We have been doing to research comparing the different technologies.”   He told HAT he is very excited about the promise these new genetics can bring to corn production.   Many of the new drought tolerant hybrids will be on display at the Farm Science Review next month in Columbus, OH. He urged farmers to do their research and compare the products.


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