Pioneer Introduces Hybrids with More Natural Drought Tolerance

Pioneer Introduces Hybrids with More Natural Drought Tolerance

New offering expected to be first wave of water-limited environment products.

Pioneer Hi-Bred today announced release of a new generation of corn hybrids during a press conference held at Pioneer headquarters in Johnston, Iowa.  Designed for water-limited environments, these hybrids will be branded as Optimum AQUAmax hybrids from Pioneer.

Monica Patterson, Pioneer senior marketing manager, says a limited release of Optimum AQUAmax hybrids in five different hybrid platforms is underway for 2011. While the hybrids are geared for the Western Corn Belt, they will also be available on a limited basis to farmers in the Central and Eastern Corn Belts.

Eight different hybrids join the Pioneer line-up with the Optimum AQUAmax designation this year. Different hybrids include various combinations of other transgenic traits. Hybrids will be available in different maturities ranging from 102 to 114 days. The technology that makes these hybrids more efficient under water-limiting conditions is not transgenic.

"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, he notes. Today's release of these hybrids signals that Pioneer has stepped up its efforts within the past decade to develop products that will benefit farmers in water-limited environments.

Plant breeders have used the whole corn genome in developing hybrids with more efficient water utilization, Schussler continues. While this first release of products doesn't contain a transgenic trait for drought tolerance, Pioneer is also researching possibilities in that area. He expects that the company could release products with a combination of natural and transgenic-derived drought tolerance by mid-to-late decade.

Based on extensive tests so far in dryland situations in the Western Corn Belt, results 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 on the market without the Optimum AQUA max trait. Testing included 223 water-limited efficiency trials from 2008 through 2010 in Nebraska, California, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas.

"We have not 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 such a possibility in tests beginning this year," Schussler says.

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

Patterson also emphasized 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."
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