U.S. Water News Online
GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — Drought-tolerant corn will be highlighted in September on a test plot at Husker Harvest Days.
The new biotech variety of corn will become increasingly critical as population pressure and possible climate change combine to make water more scarce in many parts of the world, according to the agricultural products company Monsanto.
The technology is vital to Nebraska because the state receives less annual rainfall than other states in the western cornbelt, said Bob McCauley, Monsanto technology development manager in Nebraska.
“Also, our topsoil and subsoils tend to be more porous, so they're more coarse and have less water-holding capacity than the soils of Iowa and Illinois,” he said.
Nebraska farmers are able to implement irrigation practices using water from aquifers, rivers and lakes, but the practice is stressing the environment, McCauley said.
“We've had about seven years of drought, which has caused the aquifers and lakes to go down,” said McCauley. “That means there's less water available for farmers to use for irrigation. Also, people have started worrying about running out of water, so they've put restraints on growers for water use.”
Drought-tolerant corn applies technology that has consistently delivered yield improvements compared with controls under water-stressed conditions, according to Monsanto officials.
First-generation drought tolerance is targeted to minimize uncertainty in farming by buffering against the effects of water limitation, primarily in areas of annual water stress, Monsanto officials said. In the U.S., this area has historically been the dryland farms of the western Great Plains.
Monsanto said the first-generation product is envisioned as the first in a family of drought traits that has the potential to provide farmers with irrigation cost savings, to help them achieve more consistent yields in times of drought, and to protect against drought stress in normally rain-fed areas.
As of January, Monsanto said, the first-generation project moved into Phase III of its research and development pipeline, making it the industry's first biotechnology drought project to move into the regulatory phase.
“With the continuing decline of the Ogallala Aquifer water level and increasing cost of pumping water, the use of drought-tolerant and high-yield corn hybrids is a key for sustainable corn production under limited irrigation,” said Wenwei Xu, an AgriLife Research corn breeder in Lubbock, Texas.
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