Special feature from the
Farm Outlook Fall 2012
'Hybrids saved us'
Corn hybrid technology advancements
Send a link to a friend
[October 27, 2012]
There have been great improvements in
crop production inputs over the last few decades. Notable among them
have been the genetically modified organism, or GMO, traits involved
in commercial crops. The introduction of other plant traits into
crops, in addition to the traditional selection breeding programs,
has produced crops that are resistant to insects, resistant to
diseases, tolerate drought conditions better and even can provide
for human immunization against some diseases.
Companies investing in the research end of
modification generally sell products, and that was their first
focus. We now have crops tolerant to pesticide applications,
providing for less pesticide use per acre. In many cases with the
insect control modifications, no pesticide is used for control, but
rather naturally occurring proteins develop within the plants to
control the insects.
In the case of drought tolerance, some
hybrids are combinations of standard breeding and genetic
modification. In other hybrids, it is only by selective breeding.
A benefit to the genetic modification process is that it
generally speeds up the production cycle by several years since the
trait is introduced immediately, rather than sought through several
The basis behind a plant's drought tolerance is to reduce the
size of the stomata, the pores in the leaf surface that regulate gas
and water vapor exchange. Drought is caused by external factors, and
no one thing can make corn drought-tolerant.
I say "drought-tolerant" instead of "resistant," because no corn
plant can grow without water. Plants that manage water better or are
more efficient in getting moisture from the soil will perform better
when water is scarce.
Other natural selection traits being worked on to improve drought
tolerance include root growth to enable uptake of moisture from a
larger area, and aggressive silk growth in order to be better
pollinated (corn silk is mostly water as well). It's the combination
of all these traits that will provide an estimated 7 percent yield
increase or 10-bushel yield increase under drought conditions, as
put forth by a couple of companies working in this area.
[to top of second column]
Other work is being done to limit the effects of drought as well,
including a waxy covering on leaves, either bred into the plants or
applied as a spray. This technology may limit yields in years when
drought is not an issue.
For those I've intrigued with the immunization statement, there
is considerable work being done in pharmaculture. This is
particularly of interest in Third World countries where
refrigeration is at a premium and administration of a vaccine is
also hard to come by. Initial work has been done with tomatoes,
bananas and apples to some degree. Included are hepatitis B
vaccination and E. coli antibody introduction. This is something
that is on the horizon but holds great promise for use in some areas
of the world.
University of Illinois Extension]
John Fulton is the U of I Extension
director for Logan, Menard and Sangamon counties.
Be sure to check out all the articles
Outlook Fall 2012 magazine:
Yields: Complicated by aflatoxin
Hybrids saved us
Insurance claims in drought
Impact of drought on ag loans
Droughts: 1988 vs. 2012
Roundup: A view from all sides
How were the
farmers markets affected?
Introduction: Troy Rawlings