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Study seeks ways to best manage corn tolerant to drought

Be water wise.

Corn research studies conducted at the North Plains Research Field near Etter, Texas, are showing maximum irrigation and high plant populations don’t always produce the most economical or water-use efficient yields.

Brent Bean, Texas AgriLife Extension Service agronomist, Amarillo, and Jake Becker, Texas AgriLife Research technician, are looking at new drought-tolerant corn hybrids under different seeding and irrigation rates.

Key Points

Research shows maximum irrigation and plant numbers aren’t needed for new corn.

New drought-tolerant corn hybrids are compared to conventional hybrids.

Study is providing good data on drought-tolerant corn with limited water.


The Texas High Plains Water District and the Pioneer and Syngenta seed companies are helping fund this study. Its goal is to determine how to best manage these new drought-tolerant corn hybrids under limited irrigation.

Mission: drought tolerance

“All of the major seed companies are working on drought tolerance, and we are looking at what is considered the first generation of these new drought-tolerant hybrids,” Bean says.

The study compares the new drought-tolerant hybrids to conventional hybrids. It is important that these new hybrids yield well under reduced irrigation, but also have the ability to not limit yield whenever favorable conditions are present.

“We have four hybrids from each of the companies, and will be comparing each company’s drought-tolerant hybrids to their conventional hybrids,” Bean says. “It is not our intention to compare the two company hybrids against each other; in fact, they are being conducted in separate trials.”

Becker says Pioneer’s drought-tolerant hybrids are being sold under the brand AquaMax, while Syngenta’s drought-tolerant hybrids are under the Artesian brand.

Different irrigation levels

Hybrids are being grown with irrigation ranging from 40% to 100% evapotranspiration levels.

Evapotranspiration is the loss of water from the soil by evaporation and by transpiration from the plants. Irrigation levels are adjusted to replace that water loss on a percentage basis, Bean says.

“You can really see the effects of the different irrigation levels in ear length, number of rows of kernels and overall pollination,” Becker adds.

Irrigation water amounts to meet various percentages of evapotranspiration were the following: 40%, 14.3 inches; 50%, 16.29 inches; 65%, 20.33 inches; 75%, 23 inches; and 100%, 29.71 inches.

There was a clear height difference between all the levels, with the exception of 75% and 100% evapotranspiration, Becker says, and he didn’t expect there to be a big yield difference between those two levels.

As for the other levels, he says so far all are producing ears with kernels. The 50% level has short plants, but it still pollinated and is producing ears. The 65% level showed better pollination, longer cob length and more kernels, as expected.

“This research is just getting started, but this year’s data should provide us with good information on the performance of these new drought-tolerant hybrids under limited irrigation and the extreme weather conditions experienced this summer,” Becker says.

Ledbetter is with Texas A&M Agriculture Communications, Amarillo.

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LIMIT WATER: Researchers are looking at how new drought-tolerant corn hybrids can be grown with limited irrigation water and still perform well.

This article published in the November, 2011 edition of THE FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.