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New hybrids tolerate drought

Pioneer Hi-Bred recently announced the release of a new generation of corn hybrids designed for water-limited environments. These hybrids will be branded as Optimum AQUAmax hybrids.

Monica Patterson, Pioneer senior marketing manager, says a limited release of Optimum AQUAmax hybrids in five different hybrid platforms is under way for 2011. While the hybrids are geared for the Western Corn Belt, they will also be available in the Central and Eastern Corn Belt. Plans call to ramp up production for 2012.

Key Points

Pioneer introduces eight hybrids with the Optimum AQUAmax trait.

The technology for this new trait is non-transgenic.

Tests in water-limited environments show a 5% yield improvement.


Eight different hybrids join the Pioneer lineup with the Optimum AQUAmax designation. Different hybrids include various combinations of other transgenic traits.

Hybrids will be available in maturities ranging from 102 to 114 days. The technology that makes these hybrids more efficient under water-limiting conditions is not transgenic.

Complex issue

“Drought tolerance is a complex trait,” notes Jeff Schussler, senior research manager in charge of maize stress program development. “There are many genes involved, not just one.”

Pioneer has been screening for more drought-tolerant germplasm since 1957, starting at its research location near York, Neb. The recent release signals that Pioneer has stepped up efforts within the past decade to develop products that will benefit farmers in water-limited environments, Schussler assures.

Plant breeders inside Pioneer use the whole corn genome in developing hybrids with more efficient water utilization, Schussler continues. Pioneer is also researching possibilities to improve drought tolerance through transgenic traits. He expects that the company could release products with a combination of natural and transgenic-derived drought tolerance by the middle of the decade, or soon after.

In the meantime, as Pioneer develops improved hybrids through natural breeding techniques with the Optimum AQUAmax trait, they will be added to the lineup.

Results from extensive tests so far in dryland situations in the Western Corn Belt show a 5% yield advantage over both existing Pioneer and competitive hybrids in drought-stress situations. When tested without drought stress, the new products produce as well as current hybrids without the Optimum AQUAmax trait. Testing included 223 water-limited efficiency trials from 2008 through 2010 in Nebraska, California, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas.

Future of product

“We haven’t yet tested the product under irrigated situations with the intent of determining if it might reduce the amount of irrigation needed, but we intend to look at that beginning this year,” Schussler says. Some farmers already speculate it might be possible to eliminate the last irrigation cycle of the year using this trait.

Asked about pricing for hybrids with this new trait, Patterson responded that Pioneer would determine a price in line with the extra value provided. “They will be competitively priced,” she assures.

Patterson also emphasizes that the company did not rush release of this new trait. “Some of the testing last year was on farms as sort of a pilot test,” she says. “These hybrids represent very good genetics with good disease packages. That’s why they do as well as existing hybrids in head-to-head comparisons where there isn’t drought stress.”

Finally, she notes that while Optimum AQUAmax hybrids won’t be available to Pioneer’s PROaccess partners in 2011, that possibility will be evaluated in the future.

This article published in the February, 2011 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.