By MEGGIE I. FOSTER
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — While the Midwest faced one of its worst droughts in history last year, it’s nearly a regular occurrence for little rainfall in the croplands of the Western Great Plains, according to Mark Edge, a marketer for Monsanto.
“The biggest issue in raising crops has to do with water and not just because of the drought in 2012,” said Edge. “The greatest thing holding back yields is always water, especially in the Western Great Plains states.”
That’s why Monsanto recently introduced and commercialized the ultra-timely Genuity DroughtGard Hybrids, a new tool to help manage drought conditions. Edge made the announcement during a session at the 94th American Farm Bureau annual meeting at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., on Jan. 20.
According to Edge, who has been working on the development of DroughtGard Hybrids for the past three and a half years, the system brings new tools to the table for crop producers, all while maintaining top-end yield potential. The multi-faceted system combines germplasm selected for its drought-tolerant characteristics, the drought-tolerant biotechnology trait and agronomic recommendations. The system is designed to help the corn plant use less water when drought stress occurs, he said.
How it does that, one might wonder?
Edge explained that the improved hydro-efficiency of the hybrid creates the opportunity to conserve soil moisture and helps minimize yield loss from drought conditions.
“Let me be clear, these plants still need water, but they can utilize somewhat less water to increase yield productivity efficiently during a drought,” he said.
During the 2012 planting season, Monsanto enlisted the help of 250 Great Plains farmers in their Ground Breakers on-farm testing program to plant DroughtGard Hybrids on their farms, getting first-hand experience with the experimental product.
“We looked at a variety of conditions and soil types, imposed drought stress on the plant and found that this gene helps the plant survive with less water, showing more kernels in the plant with the DroughtGard gene,” said Edge. “We found this most effective during pollination.”
Edge illustrated that the DroughtGard hybrids utilize two technologies – sap flow sensory and soil competence flow. Sap flow sensory technology measures the moisture out of the soil. This gene’s sap flow sensory showed the plant using a 15-17 percent reduction in water.
“It sips the water instead of gulps,” he added.
Meanwhile, the soil competence flow is a deep line measurement into the soil. Monsanto researchers found that with this gene, the plant takes water out of the soil much more slowly.
From the group, 22 percent of the sites were a complete lose due to an unprecedented drought in 2012, he said. Meanwhile, the greater percentage (72 percent) of farmers saw an average advantage of five bushels per acre with the DroughtGard hybrids.
“Many farmers were very excited about this technology,” Edge added.
On the heels of that excitement, Monsanto went through the process of commercializing the new product line, initially making DroughtGard available in only the Western Great Plains for the 2013 growing season under the DeKalb brand label. By 2014, Monsanto expects to expand availability into Midwestern states, across additional Monsanto brands such as Channel and others.
“DeKalb is very proud to lead the introduction of the new DroughtGard Hybrids system, giving farmers an additional tool to help protect the yield potential of their DeKalb corn products,” said Rick Myroup, brand marketing manager for Monsanto-DeKalb. “Drought tolerance has historically been a staple of our breeding program, and this product launch is the latest example of DeKalb bringing leading innovations to farmers.”
According to Edge, farmers who purchase DroughtGard Hybrids must sign a stewardship agreement committing to use the grain as on-farm feed or to sell the grain for domestic use due to pending import approvals in key export markets. While Edge anticipates that all key regulatory approvals will be completed by the end of the 2013 growing season, the company will be working with farmers and the grain trade to assist in identifying domestic markets until all such approvals are received.
In terms of cost-value, Edge said that the DroughtGard hybrids are slightly premium-priced.
“It was a difficult challenge determining the price, because we want to make sure we’re providing value to our growers and since it’s a new product we’re undershooting the value for now, but we have high hopes and high expectations for what this product can really do,” he said.
For more information on DroughtGard Hybrids, visit www.monsanto.com or contact a local DeKalb seed provider.