When Pioneer’s Optimum AcreMax 1, the company’s first single-bag refuge product for corn rootworm, was released for the 2011 planting season, it was placed on nearly 4 million Midwest acres. The next generation of products includes Optimum AcreMax for above-ground insect protection, and Optimum AcreMax Xtra for above-ground and below-ground insect control. Both products are anticipated to have a 2012 rollout, pending EPA approval.

Optimum AQUAMax, Pioneer’s first drought-tolerant hybrid, was placed on corn acres this spring in select western Corn Belt areas. “From 2008 to 2010, we had more than 200 different grower trials to test this product,” says John Pieper, marketing manager, product strategy, for Pioneer.

The company is working closely with producers to identify how Optimum AQUAMax corn hybrids can best be used. For instance, one management practice in water-limited environments is reducing plant populations. “That’s not necessarily true with Optimum AQUAMax hybrids, so we’re working with producers to ensure they are using the best practices to get the most out of the hybrids,” Pieper says.

Around the corner is the next generation of drought tolerance, which will use a biotech approach. “We will likely complement current Optimum AQUAMax products, depending on what we learn with our transgenic drought trait,” Pieper says. “We are discovering that the trait reacts differently to different drought scenarios. There’s still a lot of testing, and it may be that there are multiple traits for specific producer needs.” This new trait is in what Pioneer’s early development pipeline stage, which could still be several years away, and will need regulatory approval.

Back one notch in the pipeline is the N-use efficiency trait. “There are a lot of exciting things going on with this trait,” Pieper says. “For some producers, using the same amount of N without impacting yield is very important. Still other producers in some watershed environments are looking to reduce the amount of N without impacting yield. We’re approaching both producer concerns and looking at traits that address both needs.”

Pioneer also is working on its next generation of Lepidopteran and Coleopteran resistance traits, as well as a molecular stack. “The goal of these transgenic solutions is to bring higher yield and performance with improved efficacy and a new expanded spectrum of insect control. This would help us extend the trait durability,” Pieper says.

And while not on the producer’s radar, an innovative approach to seed production has received regulatory approval.  The process, which contains a transgenic component used at the front end of the process, eliminates the need to detassel corn during seed production.

“The progeny sold to producers does not contain the transgenic component of the process. The savings in production can be reinvested into research,” he says.

End-use corn traits that improve feed and processing value are in the early development stage as well. “We are targeting improving overall oil content as well as quality, plus digestible energy content,” Pieper says.