As an agricultural community, farmers and industry are at the preceipe of major environmental changes. With climate change ever-looming, the way farmers grow crops, and the hybrids and varieties they plant, are due for an update.
Press Article, Haut-Mauco, 28/01/2022
“Corn is the third largest crop in the Ukraine, after cereals and sunflower,” says Sergiy Tymoshenko, MAS Seeds maket manager, Ukraine. “We grow more than five million hectares of corn, mainly for grain, which makes Ukraine the biggest corn producer in continental Europe."
“Ukrainian farmers are looking for hybrids with high yield potential and good stability,” he continues. “We use little irrigation and our climate can bring long periods of heat and drough during the summer – this is why drought tolerance is so important.”
Manage Environmental Stress Through Genetics
Understanding changing environmental conditions is no easy task. Add measuring crop responses to those conditions on top of that and it’s a data overload. However, breeders do this every day to measure genetic abilities with respect to an evolving climate.
“We look at the past 20 years and try to determine what the weather pattern for the next 10 will be,” Colin Guillaume says, MAS Seeds head of corn breeding. “We know now how to pay special attention in drought years because the ‘new normal’ will be drier conditions overall, for example.”
The breeding team tracks climatic conditions at each trial center and measures the crop’s response by yield at the end of the season. This separates the winners and the losers when it comes to managing abiotic stressors such as drought and heat.
“We’re studying evapotranspiration because there’s a clear difference in the genotypes in terms of the plant’s ability to keep a higher degree of moisture—it makes a big difference in yields,” Colin says. “Some of the changes we’re breeding for because of climate change are surprising. For example, we anticipate the farmer will try to sow crops earlier to avoid big heat stress and water stress at flowering.”
Because the summers are hotter at critical times, it makes sense to plant earlier. This means the plant must be cold tolerant in the early season – which seems counterintuitive when the late summer is hotter. It’s a paradox that breeders manage every day at MAS Seeds.
From physiological characteristics to quantitative measures such as yield, MAS Seeds breeders say they’re keeping a close eye on genetics by environment to maximize yields for tomorrow. This breeding work has led to the creation of the WATERLOCK grain corn genetic, resilient hybrids with high tolerance to drought.
Mitigate Risks in Uncertainty
“One of the most important things we can offer for a farmer is resilience and yield stability,” Colin says. “There’s nothing worse for a farmer than a bad year with bad yields, especially now when input costs are rising steeply."
Consistency across a wide range of changing weather conditions is paramount to farmer success.
“We test products all across Europe so we can help with product placement to improve yield reliability for the farmer,” Guillaume says. “We don’t just sell to the farmers; we want to help them at every step to make sure they’re placing hybrids where they’re best adapted to whatever climatic scenario a farmer might be facing.”
To help with product placement, the team at MAS Seeds provides technical information about each of their varieties, including information such as which hybrids are best suited for water stress.
“The WATERLOCK hybrids are very suitable to help corn producer maximize yield and profitability,” Sergiy says.
The team also provides tips for irrigating based on research to know how to maximize return on that input includes data about harvest timing by hybrid.
“We know farmers are already adapting as the climate changes – they’re very smart,” Guillaume says. “Our goal is to meet their efforts by providing the highest quality genetics adapted to specific climates and management styles to minimize stress and maximize yields.”
MAS Seeds recently invested in a tropical corn breeding program based in Mexico to increase their germplasm pool and include parental lines already adapted to harsher, hotter and dryer conditions. This addition, and their recent expansion into Africa, reaffirms their commitment to breeding corn that is equipped in the face of climate change.