Drought-tolerant corn on the left, non-drought-tolerant hybrids on the right.
Drought tolerance expands western Corn Belt
“We had more stress in 2012 than I’ve seen in the 34 years I’ve been in this business, both from lack of moisture and what the heat and wind did to the crops,” says David Green, Servi-Tech Crop Consulting and Agronomic Services territory manager for northeast Colorado, southwest Nebraska and northwest Kansas.
“The drought tolerant hybrids that are coming out now are better adapted to our growing conditions because the companies are capitalizing on the potential for growing corn in this area and have moved their breeding programs further west,” he says.
“We need different hybrid characteristics than Illinois, Indiana and Iowa. We’re definitely lower in rainfall and humidity, hotter during the day, cooler at night and all at higher elevations,” he says.
“Breeders are also making it possible to plant corn where we would not have dreamed of planting it 20 years ago,” he says.
Green creates agronomic programs for Servi-Tech’s crop consulting clients. “As we evaluate new technology, the only things we initially concern ourselves with are: ‘Will this help the farmer stay in business? Will the farmer be able to sell a crop profitably and come back next year and do it again?’
“We want to count on the corn in stress conditions but also leave ourselves open to top yields when the weather is good,” he says.
When evaluating drought-tolerant hybrids, Green recommends looking at the size of the root system and the number of days silks are viable during pollination. “Instead of being two days, will the product have a pollination window of four to six days?”
He emphasizes that the drought-tolerant hybrids still need water to produce a crop. “I don’t know that drought tolerance is a miracle, but there’s no doubt it’s an improvement.