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Drought-tolerant corn may be good for farmers, but gains to society are questionable -- report

Tiffany Stecker, E&E reporter

Monsanto's drought-tolerant corn -- the only genetically modified drought-tolerant crop available in the United States -- will only offer modest protection for drought tolerance, according to a report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Meanwhile, water resources will dwindle and climate change will begin to reduce the United States' corn supply, it asserts.

According to an analysis of Agriculture Department studies, scientific studies and Monsanto's own field trials, USDA has only approved one genetically engineered drought-tolerance gene -- cspB -- since 1998, although up to 113 different drought-tolerant varieties have been tested in field trials since 2005.

"If we don't see a couple more [engineered] genes in the next three to four years, it's some suggestion that this phase of the technology is not panning out as well," said Doug Gurian-Sherman, author of the "High and Dry"  report and a senior scientist in the Food and Environment Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Gurian-Sherman added that drought-tolerant corn could help individual farmers against drought-induced yield losses. However, it would do little to help society as a whole cope with feeding a booming population in the face of climate change, land degradation and increasing urbanization. While preliminary results show yield improvements of 6 percent in moderate drought conditions, this would apply to 15 percent of corn-growing land. Over all U.S. corn cropland, DroughtGard would provide a 0.9 percent yield advantage.

Monsanto began the first on-farm field trials of its DroughtGard corn this spring in the Great Plains, an area historically prone to moderate to severe drought. The technology could be introduced on the market as early as next year, said a spokeswoman for the agriculture company.

DroughtGard corn will be able to use less water during severe drought stress and produce more kernels per ear. Monsanto declined to comment on the analysis before the release of the report.

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500


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