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High hopes for drought-resistant corn

| August 9, 2012

The United States is having one of the worst droughts recorded in over 50 years. More than three-quarters of U.S. corn and soybean crops have now been affected, and the rain isn’t falling any faster.

Corn prices are rising due to the intense drought, and Americans, along with the rest of the world, are seeking some relief. That relief may come in the form of genetically modified drought-resistant corn.

Three of the world’s largest agricultural companies are testing corn that is modified to withstand low levels of rainfall. Monsanto, Dupont and Syngenta all currently have different strains of drought-resistant corn seeds planted in fields across the Midwest. However, the drought this year is so bad, ag companies are just hoping to help cut losses.

 “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,” he said. “It’s still corn, and it still needs water.” 

The drought problem probably can’t be solved with one agricultural biotechnology practice. Corby Jensen, Monsanto’s technology development manager for Nebraska and the Dakotas, said, ““It’s about the whole package, eliminating weeds that can rob the soils of valuable water, better genetics, residue management, using no-till practices have been a proven way to conserve soil moisture. So, again it’s about putting all those pieces together to give yourself the best chance at success possible.”

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Of course, the new biotechnology doesn’t come without its critics. The Union of Concerned Scientists, a group advocating for the environment and scientific integrity, has been particularly critical of agricultural companies’ claims. The group released a report in June claiming that Monsanto will only offer modest protection for drought tolerance.

The final result still remains to be seen. So far, biotech companies are happy with early results of their work. About 250 farmers on close to 100,000 acres across the western Great Plains planted the drought-resistant corn in the spring.

Clay Scott, a farmer who is currently growing the corn on land located in a region in extreme to exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, said, “We’re starting to see some real winners in the plots. I’m excited about it.”

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The GLP featured this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. The viewpoint is the author’s own. The GLP’s goal is to stimulate constructive discourse on challenging science issues.

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