When companies began touting drought-tolerant products, some jumped to the conclusion that they could produce normal yield in a dry summer. What they can really do is make better use of available moisture. But if the soil eventually runs out of moisture, the hybrids can't perform magic. The drought of 2012 overwhelmed even the new drought-tolerant products in the end.
There are different versions on the market, with more coming to the market. Mark Lawson, Danville, shows us a version in his plots. He is a regional agronomist for Syngenta, and they have hybrids with a non-GMO trait that improves water use.
Lawson says you could tell a difference early in the season in how that hybrid in his field-size plot responded to dry conditions compared to other hybrids. But as dryness became a full-blown drought—the worst in perhaps 75 years, even the corn with improved drought tolerance was affected. He hasn't harvested the plot yet, so he doesn't know if it will outperform hybrids that don't have the trait or not.
Depending upon which company you talk to and which product it is, you can expect from 7 to 15% higher yield typically with the drought tolerant product. As DuPont Pioneer plant breeder Chuck Cunningham puts it, if the trait is supposed to improve yield by 7%, that's 107 bushels per acre vs. 100 bushels per acre. It's not 180 bushels per acre vs. 100 bushels per acre, and no one should expect that, experts say.
The other variable answer you may find is what will the product do in a year that is normal? Will it perform and yield as well as hybrids without the trait? Most companies say it will. It may take more testing in years which are somewhat dry but not a full-blown historic drought to answer these questions.