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Drought tolerance and transgentic traits II – Audio 6:30 minutes

Joe Lauer Extension Corn Agronomist
Department of Agronomy
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
(608) 263-7438
(608) 262-1390

6:30 – Total time
0:16 –What’s new
1:14 –Yield enhancing vs yield protecting
2:18 – Where it comes from
3:05 –No drought situation
3:30 – Is it worth it
5:16 –Who benefits
6:20 – Lead out


Sevie Kenyon: Looking at some new corn hybrid technologies, we’re visiting today with Joe Lauer, Department of Agronomy, University of Wisconsin – Madison/Extension in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and I’m Sevie Kenyon. Joe, what are you seeing that’s new in these corn hybrids this season?

Joe Lauer: Last year we saw, for the first time, a brand new transgenic trait that has a lot of potential. It’s called DroughtGard, we had it in 11 different hybrids this past year and three of them were starred which means that they were not statistically different from the top yielding hybrid in a trial, and that’s always a good sign that trait is kind of off to a good start and performing well. This particular trait, what I would call more of a yield enhancing trait than the traits we’ve currently have available to us, they’re, the ones we have available, are what I call yield protecting traits. Things that we can control insects with, control weeds with more easily, they don’t necessarily add to yield but they allow us to keep some of the pests that corn plants commonly encounter at bay a little bit better.

Sevie Kenyon: Joe you called this new trait, your first yield enhancing, can you explain the difference with this new trait compared to other traits we’ve had?

Joe Lauer: Well corn is one of those crops where we’ve always seen yield progress nearly every year, Typically, on average, we’re gaining about one and a half to two bushels per acre per year, so just with natural breeding techniques we are able to advance corn yields probably better than any other crop that we currently grow. What this particular trait does, it’s called DroughtGard, what it does is it under times of stress, the thought it that the when the plant encounters water stress, either during a drought or at some point during the life cycle of the plant these genes will kick in and basically alleviate the stress that these plants will encounter. Either through better water use efficiency or being able to keep the physiological processes that go on within the plant at a much higher level than if it was stress undergoing some sort of drought condition.

Sevie Kenyon: Joe, can you explain where this trait was found or where it comes from?

Joe Lauer: Yes, the trait come from a very common bacteria called Bacillus subtilus. Four genes were basically used in this particular trait. Each one modifies the physiology of the plant a little bit differently. Drought is not really what we call a single-trait gene, there are a lot of different genes that modify and allow the plant to adapt to and perform well under drought and again, these four genes were derived from a very common bacteria and this bacteria usually is more prevalent under stress situation.

Sevie Kenyon: Could you expect this corn variety to work even better when it has adequate water?

Joe Lauer: I don’t think the trait is going to hurt when conditions are ideal. That kind of always comes back to the underlying germplasm that these transgenic traits are incorporated into if it’s good underlying germplasm it will perform as well as any other corn hybrid when conditions are good.

Sevie Kenyon: Most of these innovations do come at a price, is it worth it to the farmer to invest in this?

Joe Lauer:  Generally, we are advancing our corn yields about one and a half to two bushels per acre per year and yet if we take our best hybrids in a trial, any trial that we conduct in any year and then grow it the next year, in other words we are basing our decision to plant a hybrid based on previous performance, we grow it the next year the best we can expect is a gain of 9 to 11 bushels in that one year. So, it’s pretty substantial, it’s better but those 9 to 11 bushels compared to the 1.5 to 2 bushels that we’re going to get anyway that extra yield is got to be used for paying for those extra transgenic traits and at three-dollar corn times maybe 10 bushels to the acre more that’s 30 dollars an acre and you usually get about two acres a bag. So that means that you’d have about 60 dollars increased yield potentially between a hybrid that has DroughtGard in it versus something else. That $60 swing is the money that you have to be able to pay for that better trait but that’s under the best conditions and so it’s very difficult oftentimes for some of these traits to pay in the long run, of course if you could tell me that next year we’re going to have a drought then it might be even worth more. But, that’s the best we can typically predict out as to the gain we’ll have and again that’s the money you got to use to pay for that more expensive transgenic hybrid.

Sevie Kenyon: Joe, what kind of grower or grower profile would most benefit by this kind of DroughtGard technology?

Joe Lauer: Well I think anybody could really, again it’s a matter of what your crystal ball of being able to predict when these droughts occur. Typically, the site that is usually the most stressful for water anyway, are usually sandier soils they’re the ones that will typically run out of water more quickly than a silt loam or a clay kind of soil and so growers that have sandier fields and or soils that are fairly shallow and don’t hold a lot of water these might be places for these kinds of hybrids. It really comes down to just how well the germplasm is because if we have a good year and we don’t need the water we don’t have any water stress. You still want to have good yields outs there as far as predicting where these things are going to occur it’s going to be in areas that are sandy without irrigation and that are probably shallower soils.

Sevie Kenyon: We’ve been visiting today with Joe Lauer, Department of Agronomy, University of Wisconsin – Madison/Extension in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and I’m Sevie Kenyon.