Dr. Wenwei Xu cannot pinpoint a gene that allows drought resistance or water efficiency in corn, but he is drawing nearer to providing producers with corn exhibiting those traits.

"We will be running out of water at some point, so we need to find water-efficient or drought-tolerant corn hybrids, plus management technology to reduce the amount of water required to produce corn," Xu, a Texas AgriLife Research corn breeder from Lubbock, said during the recent Texas North Plains Corn Irrigation Research and Extension Field Day near Etter.

The AgriLife Research plots at the North Plains Research Station near Etter are among the three primary test locations established by Xu. The other two are at Halfway and Lubbock.

Xu has been conducting his breeding work since 1998 and has already released some inbred lines to commercial companies, which are using those lines in pre-commercial tests.

New germplasm

"We are developing new corn germplasm by using exotic materials special from tropical corn," he said.

Xu is not only developing new inbred lines, but also evaluating existing available technologies and in-the-pipeline products from commercial hybrids, using that information to pick up the best technology for producers.

"We select corn for a lot of traits," he said. "We cannot select corn for drought tolerance or water efficiency based on a single trait. We have to select a lot of traits. It's very complicated, so the water-use efficient corn is not going to be like herbicide-tolerant corns or Bt. It has to be incremental increases."

The AgriLife Research corn-breeding nursery is located in Halfway and Lubbock, Xu said. At these locations where the initial selections are made, sub-surface drip irrigation systems are used to apply water amounts that will stress the corn.