New, drought-resistant strains of corn helped farmers get through the drought in 2012 that cut the harvest to about 75 percent of what would have been expected with ordinary weather, according to “U.S. Drought 2012: Farm and Food Impacts,” a recent USDA report. Even with pressure from the drought, the harvest was a quite sizeable.
“The harvest was the eighth largest in U.S. history, a reflection of a big increase in recent years in the number of acres planted and crop technology that has improved plants’ ability to withstand drought,” according to a recent article from the Associated Press. READ MORE »
With the corn harvest underway in the Midwest, farmers are evaluating the performance of new drought-resistant corn varieties after the unusually dry summer, The Kansas City Star reports. Gary Plunkett, an Iowa farmer and seed dealer, is satisfied with his first-ever sample of drought-resistant corn. “[It] looks like the yield is going to be up there very well. The stalk quality looks great. It’s standing very well,” Plunkett said. He plants a variety from Syngenta. DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto also have drought-resistant varieties.
While some farmers lost everything to extreme drought or severe winds this year, others used the severe conditions to test drought-resistant corn seeds, and are pleased by the early returns. “I know when I had my first drought in 1977 that we actually had 3 bushels to the acre. If I would have had the hybrids today back then, we would have never had that kind of a drought, because with the hybrids today it’s just amazing what they’re pulling through,” Bill Couser, who also farms in Iowa, pointed out. Read more.
As we’ve noted previously on this blog, the summer’s severe drought has presented significant economic and food security challenges, while highlighting the need for innovative agricultural solutions that equip farmers with the tools to combat drought in the future. Agribusinesses are hoping to achieve just this with new GM corn varieties that are designed to better withstand arid conditions, reports TIME Magazine’s Bryan Walsh.
While trials are still underway, the initial findings are promising. “Hundreds of farmers in the western end of the Corn Belt-an area that runs to dry even in normal years-are field-testing DroughtGard, and Monsanto says early results indicate that the GM crop might improve yields by 4% to 8% over conventional crops in some arid conditions,” the article explains. Read more.
This year’s brutal Midwestern drought is posing an unexpectedly difficult challenge for test plots of drought-resistant corn. So far the new varieties are showing promise, according to media reports.
About 250 farmers planted Monsanto’s DroughtGard biotech variety on nearly 100,000 acres in the western Great Plains this spring, before anyone knew the drought would hit so hard. Yet Clay Scott, a corn grower in Western Kansas, says he is “excited” about the results so far. “We’re starting to see some winners in the plots,” he told Energy and Environment News.
DuPont Pioneer’s AQUAmax hybrid variety is also in test plots, with farmers reporting good tasseling despite the drought. Test plots last year yielded seven percent more corn than conventional hybrids, the company said.
Neither company has ever claimed the new seeds are a silver bullet against drought, however.
“I don’t think there will ever be a solution for this severe of a drought,” said Mark Edge, DroughtGard marketing lead at Monsanto. “It’s really about managing risk. It’s still corn, and it still needs water.” Read more.
Study shows biotech crops help increase yields
According to VOA News, a study by the journal Science shows that technology - such as genetic modification - is necessary to improve crop yields as global temperatures rise and weather patterns change. Wolfram Schlenker, an economist at Columbia University and a co-author of the study, said, “If you’re worried about rising food prices, it might be good to funnel some research into doing breeding for heat tolerance, and maybe even drought tolerance.” Read more.
USDA announces plans to consider approval of drought-resistant GM corn
Paul Voosen reports for The New York Times that the USDA is likely to approve the unlimited sale of a drought-resistant genetically modified corn. Tests of the corn show that the corn can resist stressful environmental conditions, which the article says could help farmers reduce yield losses even in drought-prone regions. If approved, the variety would be the first biotech crop designed to meet environmental challenges, rather than pests or herbicides. Read more.