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Genetic improvement starts with good germplasm

TAGS: Technology
Courtesy of Corteva Agriscience cornfield
RAPID GENETIC PROGRESS: Advances in plant breeding technology are one reason Pioneer is introducing 43 new corn products this year.
Pioneer introduces 93 new corn and soybean products in the U.S. for 2021.

The first genetics that ended up in a Pioneer seed corn bag when the company started in 1926 dated to 1920. So, Geoff Graham, vice president and global plant breeding lead for Corteva Agriscience, notes that the company has been in the genetics business for over 100 years.

Pioneer launched what it called the “Corn Revolution” in 2020. For 2021, the company is introducing 43 new corn hybrids and 50 new soybean varieties.

“People ask how we can introduce so many new products so quickly,” Graham says. “It all starts with germplasm. We have collected a tremendous amount of germplasm globally.

“Science and technology are helping us advance potential products quicker today. Our breeders can know about every gene in every line, and that helps us know how well they will perform.”

Many tools breeders use today fall under the general heading of predictive analysis, he says. Breeders collect millions of data points about genetic lines. In 2020 alone, they collected 70 million data points. Field data is associated with specific genetics and how they perform in certain geographies.

With computers, plant breeders use their datasets to predict how certain genetic combinations might perform in specific geographies, Graham explains. For example, they can set up “what if?” computer simulations where the season is too wet or too dry.

“We look at the very best information we have, and then move the best genetics forward,” he says. This process allows them to speed up hybrid and variety development compared to the past.

2021 product offerings

The 43 new corn hybrids offered by Pioneer for 2021 come from 26 new genetic platforms. Maturities range from 75 to 117 days, meaning that certain products fit specific geographies in the U.S.

The 2021 lineup includes 12 new Pioneer Qrome products that contain top-tier genetics, optimized for corn rootworm control plus control of other insects. Graham notes that Qrome products have helped Pioneer achieve a 17% improvement in root strength of hybrids across the Corn Belt since 2017.

There are four new Optimum AquaMax products in the lineup. Hybrids must meet a minimum amount of drought testing data to earn this designation. Spokespersons say AquaMax hybrids already on the market held a 3.6-bushel-per-acre advantage across all environments in tests against non- AquaMax hybrids over the past two years.

“They outperform other products in dry years and yield just as well in good years,” Graham says.

On the soybean side, there are 50 new Pioneer varieties hitting the market in 2021. Twenty-four of the 50 are new Enlist E3 varieties, with tolerance to 2,4-D choline, glyphosate and glufosinate. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup, and glufosinate is the active ingredient in Liberty.

There are 26 new A-Series varieties, touted as the highest-yielding varieties ever introduced by Pioneer. The offering includes five new Plenish high-oleic soybeans, 14 Roundup Ready 2 Xtend varieties, and five with the Roundup Ready 2 Xtend and LibertyLink gene stack. There are also two new conventional varieties.

Overall, these 50 new varieties range in maturity from groups 0.9 to 5.4 Five new varieties have Peking resistance to soybean cyst nematode, in maturities from 1.3 to 3.6. Peking is an alternative source of SCN resistance to the most common PI 88788 source. Many reports indicate PI 88788-type SCN resistance is no longer as effective in some areas.

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