Sunday, January 21, 2007

Is Midwest Due for a Drought? Corn drought gene?

The Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette had a story today about the potential for a drought for the 2007 growing season.

URBANA – A popular Iowa State University agricultural meteorologist says
the Midwest is overdue for a serious drought.
But Doane Advisory Services market economists say corn prices, which got a substantial boost last year from the hot ethanol market, will remain relatively high even if that drought doesn't materialize and yields are high in 2007.
At a recent Doane meeting at Urbana, Dan Manternach talked about Iowa State's weather outlook prepared by longtime meteorologist Elwynn Taylor, an outlook he said he pays particular attention to because of Taylor's track record.
Manternach, Doane's ag services director, said Taylor believes in 18-year weather cycles and the current one started with the drought of 1988, so that means the past growing season should have been dry. But an El Nino that started in July last year made a different in that outcome, he said.
"But it's fading,"Manternach said. "Taylor's now saying there's a 54
percent chance 2007 yields will be above normal, but if the El Nino
continues to fade, he's going to predict there's a 70 percent chance they'll
be below normal."
Generally the midwest has had some good weather over the past decade or so, there have been pockets of drought, but not like the broad far reaching drought of 1988. Several seed companies are now working on corn that has a drought resistant gene in the plant. This won't be on the market for several years but is coming soon. Research at Southern Illinois University is showing promise for the improved corn.

Corn with a gene from a common soil microogranism can
weather a drought while yielding roughly 10 percent more than corn that lacks
the gene, researchers from Southern Illinois University Carbondale have

"Drought is the farmer's most damaging problem,
but it hasn't gotten the investment it deserves because before transgenes, traditional breeding wasn't working as hoped - most drought-resistant cultivars just
yielded less," said biotechnologist David A. Lightfoot, who
developed the transgenic corn and headed the 10-member research team that tested its properties.
At a recent symposium in St. Paul, Minnesota researchers emphasized the growing trend for biotech crops, including the drought resistant gene traits.

According to Agence France Presse, tests by Performance Plants show a
surprising result: these transgenic plants could provide up to 25 percent more
yield under tough drought conditions, compared to plants that did not have much
drought stress, Dennis told AFP. By modifying a single gene in the plants,
Dennis said, this new kind of crop can improve yields, improve tolerance to
drought and heat stress, and improve yield quality.

Yet the some of the public remain skeptical of bio-engineered crops, despite the overwhelming evidence of their safe use in the food supply.

Public awareness and understanding of genetically modified (GM) foods
remains relatively low and consumers' opinions about GM foods are as divided now
as they were five years ago, according to a new survey released today
by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology. The survey also shows that
regulation may increase confidence in GM foods and reveals that animal cloning
causes great discomfort among American consumers.

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