In parts of Kansas where it's not uncommon to get less than 15 inches of rain a year, anything that helps mitigate drought stress is welcome. This year, two new water optimization traits, Syngenta's Agrisure Artesian, and Monsanto's DroughtGard are being tested in the WinField Answer Plot program. Average annual rainfall in Kansas ranges from 40 inches in the southeast to 25 inches in the south-central part of the state to 15 inches or less in the western reaches. With such a wide variance, it's important to test in a variety of environments.
With 200 locations across the U.S., the goal of WinField's Answer Plot system is to be as relevant as possible to local growing conditions to feed relevant data to the R7 Placement Strategy tool. So, before new traits are introduced to CROPLAN hybrids, WinField regional product manager in Pratt, Holly Weber, says testing under different conditions is important. "As we look as these technologies, we want to make sure they do well in drought situations as well as higher rainfall situations," she says. "So we're also looking at them as we move into higher yielding environments."
Best of both worlds
Finding a hybrid that holds up under drought and yields well in favorable conditions takes a lot of fine-tuning. The first step is starting with a high-yielding product, and then pairing those products with their perspective drought technology, Weber explains. There are eight Answer Plot locations in Kansas in a broad range of yield environments. In these different conditions, varieties are tested for response to population, nitrogen, rotation, and water scenarios to find a balance that yields well in tougher dryland environments and in top-yielding dryland environments.
However, these plants aren't cacti: rain is still needed. "The technology is about optimizing the water that's available, slowing down the plant's growth and putting it on pause, waiting for that rain to come," Weber says. "If there is no water, you aren't going to get 100 bushels in a 0 bushel environment. But with these technologies you are increasing your yield potential in drought situations."
Drought stress during pollen shed and silking causes more yield loss than stress during any other period. With DroughtGard and Agrisure Artesian traits, the plant's reproductive phase is slowed down under drought stress. "It's trying to hold on and hope that you get some moisture that's really going to relieve the stress that plant is under," Weber says. "With that, you wouldn't be pushing silk and you wouldn't be pushing tassels to shed pollen."
Agrisure Artesian uses Gene Blueprinting to identify and use multiple genes in order to protect the plant at different times of the year. "With that, you would be able to protect yourself in multiple times of the year like in early flowering stress and into the grain fill stress time," Weber says. "Artesian hybrids are going to protect it during tassel and silk, but they're also going to later during grain fill and early in the vegetative stage, before you're even pushing tassel, so you are protected throughout the season."