Syngenta, the world’s No. 3 supplier of corn seed, announced its initial drought-tolerant Agrisure Artesian hybrids last July. Syngenta Biotechnology scientists developed the Agrisure Artesian platforms in conjunction with the company's (U.S) Midwest and California breeders, who conducted the field-testing. The Switzerland-based company will sell its new seeds for 2011 under the Garst, Golden Harvest and NK brands.

DuPont announced its five hybrid platforms in early 2011. It tested them from 2008 to 2010 in 223 water-limited efficiency trials concentrated in California, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. The company’s agribusiness arm, Pioneer Hi-Bred, will sell the drought-forgiving seeds this year under the Optimum AQUAmax brand.

Both companies and Monsanto, the world’s top seed seller, are now developing genetically engineered hybrids. Their aim is more predictable drought resistance, plus greater yield potential, Roozeboom says.

In developing its drought-tolerant seed, Monsanto has been collaborating with Germany's BASF, the world’s leading chemical company, in a $1.5 billion partnership. Monsanto’s first drought-resistant biotech corn is now going through the federal regulatory approval process required for gene-modified products in the U.S.

DuPoint announced this month that its biotech challenger won’t be ready for the market until later in the decade. A Syngenta spokesperson has said its competitor will require “years.”

Roozeboom points out, however, that the seed companies will still have room for further improvements.

“Drought itself is a complex subject. And corn’s ability to handle dry conditions involves a number of genes,” he said. “Beyond that, drought-tolerance alone simply addresses the problem of having to produce in a water-limited environment. Kansans know that heat can be just as damaging. Both water availability and heat stress also can depend on or interrelate with soil type, pests, nutrient levels and each farmer’s management practices.”