Seed for two new drought-tolerant corn varieties will be in limited release this spring. They’re targeted for farmers on the western edge of the U.S. Corn Belt.

DuPont (Pioneer Hi-Bred) and Syngenta developed the new varieties through traditional breeding techniques -- with a little advanced technology thrown in to speed the process of picking which parent plants to try.

The duo’s entry into the world market could start decades of fierce competition for rain-challenged growers’ business. Biotech varieties in the pipeline for future release may have an even bigger impact than today’s hybrids, said Kraig Roozeboom, agronomist with Kansas State University Research and Extension.

“Either way, drought-tolerant corn could expand seed companies’ markets,” he said. “Continued expansion of corn acreage at the expense of other crops, such as wheat and sorghum, will mean greater corn seed sales –the most profitable sector of the seed market.”

Roozeboom said technology isn’t the only reason new-generation corns are arriving so fast, compared to the new offerings for other standard crops. The seed industry for some time has been making larger investments in improving corn yields, largely because corn has been generating more dollars to invest.

Herbicide- and insect-resistant corn varieties, for example, were earlier money-makers.