Study shows effectiveness of drought-tolerant corn

DuPont Pioneer announced the Journal of Crop Science published results of a multi-year study conducted to evaluate corn hybrids under drought-stress, or water-limited, conditions. Findings scientifically demonstrate the efficacy of Pioneer brand Optimum AQUAmax maize hybrid seeds, which help farmers achieve more stable yields under drought-stress conditions and high-yield potential in favorable growing conditions.

"Through these and related research efforts, we are making real progress in understanding what contributes to drought tolerance," said Mark Cooper, research director, trait characterization and development at DuPont Pioneer, and one of the study"s authors. "This will help DuPont Pioneer continue to deliver strong maize hybrids to growers around the world."

This study is probably the most extensive study released by any seed company that sells drought-tolerant corn hybrids. Pioneer hybrids are by no means the only drought-tolerant hybrids on the market, and success from such hybrids are being proven annually by the various companies selling them. The Pioneer study comparison was not against other company"s drought-tolerant hybrids.

DuPont Pioneer notes that the international community faces the challenge of growing food sustainably, which involves meeting the demands of a growing population in the midst of adverse environmental changes. Globally, water is the most limiting factor to agricultural and food productivity, causing annual crop losses of $13 billion due to drought. Since 1980, major droughts and heat waves within the United States alone have resulted in costs exceeding $100 billion, easily becoming one of the most costly weather-related disasters on the continent during that time (Lott and Ross, 2000). In 2012, a severe drought contributed to historically high grain prices in the United States (Boyer et al., 2013). 

Key Findings from the Study

The multi-year study included comprehensive managed-environment research experiments, on-farm industry evaluation experiments and planting density studies. More than 10,700 U.S. farms provided extensive data comparing 78 of the Optimum AQUAmax hybrids to a sample of 4,200 hybrids used by growers throughout the Corn Belt. Pioneer researchers found the following:

  • In the on-farm experiments, the Optimum AQUAmax hybrids were, on average, 6.5 percent higher yielding under water-limited conditions and 1.9 percent higher yielding under favorable growing conditions.
  • Under water-limited conditions, the Optimum AQUAmax hybrids yielded better in higher plant population situations (i.e., more plants per acre) when compared to the other hybrids. The yield advantage of Optimum AQUAmax hybrids compared to other hybrids became greater as plant populations increased.

"Through the integrated use of advanced breeding technologies, the study provides a deeper understanding of the under-lying physiology of corn plants and responses to drought, and the opportunities for further sustainable improvements in the agricultural productivity of the U.S. Corn Belt," said Carlos Loeffler, senior research scientist at DuPont Pioneer.

Minimizing Risk and Maximizing Productivity for Farmers

Corn is vulnerable to drought conditions especially at critical stages of development. Pioneer touts itself as helping growers overcome this challenge by developing its corn hybrids that resulted in better grain yield under drought and favorable conditions, particularly in the U.S. Corn Belt.  

"Providing public access to the results of this research effort allows us to learn and collaborate with other scientists with the ultimate goal of using inputs more efficiently and improving food security," said Loeffler.

To access the full study manuscript, "Industry Scale Evaluation of Maize Hybrids Selected for Increased Yield in Drought-Stress Conditions of the U.S. Corn Belt," visit

Pioneer supplied References: Boyer, J.S., P. Byrne, K.G. Cassman, M. Cooper, D. Delmer, T. Greene, et al., 2013. The U.S. drought of 2012 in perspective: A call to action. Global Food Security 2(3):139-143. Lott, N., and T. Ross, 2000. NCDC Technical Report 2000-02, A Climatology of Recent Extreme Weather and Climate Events. [Asheville, N.C.]: National Climatic Data Center.


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