Earlier-maturing varieties of corn and soybeans rolling out across the Canadian Prairies will provide new cash crop options and contribute to more sustainable rotations, a senior official with DuPont Pioneer said here last week.
While it is widely acknowledged that farmers are squeezing their canola rotations too tightly, setting the stage for a rise in yield-crippling diseases such as clubroot, it’s because farmers see value in the crop, said Neal Gutterson, vice-president of agricultural biotechnology for DuPont Pioneer.
“I think the message we are hearing from growers is that they need other cash crop opportunities,” Gutterson said in an interview at the Ag in Motion 2015 outdoor farm show.
“Are there options we can provide that might replace some of the cereals with corn and soybeans to enlarge that rotation cycle, which may enable them to rotate canola more sustainably over the longer term?” he said.
The answer to that appears to be yes.
DuPont used the new farm show near Saskatoon as its backdrop for launching six new corn hybrids, including three which are ultra-early, plus five new soybean varieties bred for Western Canada.
These are already significant crops in Manitoba but many believe a combination of earlier-maturing varieties and climate change is poised to open up a new Corn Belt across the West.
The new Pioneer hybrids range from 2,000 heat units (70 comparative relative maturity or CRM) — which is the earliest-maturing corn in Western Canada — up to 2,600 heat units (85 CRM). The hybrids combine high yield potential with traits ranging from disease resistance to pest protection, and stacked herbicide tolerance, the company said.
As well, the company launched new canola hybrids that combine improved yields with better protection against sclerotinia and clubroot. It also offers growers protection against pod shatter through the company’s HarvestMax technology.
Genetic editing, not modification
Gutterson said the new releases reflect DuPont Pioneer’s recognition of Western Canada as one of five regions in the world along with China, South America, India and Eastern Europe that offer significant potential for growth in agricultural productivity.
It also reflects an increasingly integrated approach to crop development whereby companies such as his provide farmers not only with the genetics and traits that offer improved yields, but the agronomic aids needed to achieve that potential.
Gutterson said recent breakthroughs in biotechnology are making it possible for researchers to engage in “genome editing,” which tweaks a seed’s genetic profile without inserting foreign genes.
“We can do things like delete the gene — turn it off. You can edit the gene, just as you’d like a little different variant on the word you chose, or even bring in something from a wild germplasm,” he said. “Genome editing is a tool that can allow us to actually pluck that specific gene out that exists naturally in the germplasm pool and bring it out into an elite variety.”
Gutterson said the technology offers potential for a wide range of applications in plant breeding. But wheat is one of the crops that stands to gain the most from this approach. Wheat has proven difficult to improve through traditional genetic modification and there continues to be controversy around transgenics.
“I think hybridization plus genome editing can help us achieve a similar value proposition to what biotech is trying to achieve,” he said.
While genome editing is a form of mutagenesis, Gutterson said it remains to be seen how varieties developed using the technology will be regulated.
“Our basic position is we will work with the regulators to bring the best science to understanding the risk balance and come up with the right regulatory framework,” he said. “We think of this technology as bringing to the market the same sorts of products that you get through breeding — just quicker, more efficiently — so we hope that regulators will look at it the same way.”
DuPont Pioneer has also set up a new division to focus on commercialization of biological solutions to agronomic challenges.
“Ultimately what we care about is delivering a particular solution to a grower, and to be honest, the shorter the time is to getting that solution to the market the better,” he said. “Unfortunately, biotech traits are a long cycle.”
As well, specific traits can rapidly become obsolete as pathogens rapidly evolve resistance.
“The more solutions you can combine — the fungicide with a biological trait to make it work, stabilize it and get more durability — is great for the farmer and is good for the company as well.
“We see them as definitely compatible,” he said.
Pioneer’s new releases for 2016
Corn — The new hybrids range from 2,000 heat units (70 comparative relative maturity or CRM) — which is the earliest- maturing corn in Western Canada — up to 2,600 heat units (85 CRM). The hybrids combine high yield potential with traits ranging from disease resistance to pest protection, and stacked herbicide tolerance, the company said.
Soybeans — Five ultra-early T-Series soybean varieties — suited to as little as 2,300 heat units (maturity group 001) will be available for 2016. Variety P006T78R is at 2,425 heat units (maturity group 006) and offers excellent yield potential and harvest standability. All of the Pioneer-brand soybean varieties are glyphosate tolerant with one variety having the Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield trait.
Canola — Pioneer launched new canola hybrids under its Pioneer Protector brand that combine improved yields with better protection against sclerotinia and clubroot. They also offer growers protection against pod shatter through the company’s HarvestMax technology. The Pioneer Protector clubroot resistance trait provides effective resistance against the most prevalent race of clubroot (Race 3) as well as Races 2, 5, 6 and 8, the company said.