Imagine corn that can stand up to the coldest spring and the driest summer, resist all major pest threats, yield more than 200 bu. in a bad year, and power your pickup truck.

While still a few years off, these are some of the traits corn breeders are developing through biotechnology. Here's a sampling of what you can expect to see in the next five to 10 years.

Better input traits

Seed corn buyers will continue to see improvements in plant protection. “The crystal ball for 10 years out shows that we'll see more trait options,” says Steve Klein, director of sales and marketing for Garst Seed. “We are well down the road on technology traits like YieldGard Corn Borer and YieldGard Rootworm. Innovations like that will continue.”

One technology that will be widely available in 2005 is YieldGard Plus, the first biotech corn product offering growers protection against both corn rootworm and corn borer, according to Kyle Maple, corn marketing manager at Monsanto. Further down the road, Monsanto plans to introduce the next generation of YieldGard Corn Borer.

Triple stack

“The next cool thing that is taking place is a new triple stack offering,” says Monsanto's Maple. “Growers will have the opportunity to get Roundup Ready (RR), YieldGard Corn Borer and YieldGard Rootworm all in the same hybrid.”

Monsanto hopes to commercialize the triple trait offering, which will be sold commercially as YieldGard Plus RR as early as 2005. “We are excited to offer corn growers the opportunity to realize the benefits of three highly valued trait technologies in one seed,” Maple says.

Grain-quality traits

The next wave of trait technology will relate to grain-quality characteristics in corn and soybeans. According to Garst's Klein, such traits will include improved ethanol production in corn and better protein and oil content in soybeans. “These are the things our export customers are looking for,” Klein says.

Feeding the ethanol pipeline is expected to take as much as 20% of the U.S. corn market in five to 10 years. Pioneer, Monsanto and other seed companies have started marketing specific hybrids for the ethanol market. These hybrids have enhanced ethanol yields. In 2006, Syngenta plans to introduce a thermal amylase corn also designed to improve the efficiency of ethanol production, according to Jack Bernens, marketing vice president.

New silage traits

“We continue to work on new silage traits,” reports Tom Strachota, CEO of Dairyland Seed. Dow AgroSciences Mycogen also specializes in a silage-specific lineup of corn hybrids geared to the dairy and cattle markets.

RR alfalfa

Monsanto has plans to sell Roundup Ready alfalfa by 2006, if regulatory approvals are received. The company expects growers to find substantial benefits with the new alfalfa, especially on the West Coast and the Midwest.

Yield enhancement/Stress tolerance

Several seed companies are working on stress tolerance and higher population performance. For example, breeders are researching in-plant transgenic traits for cold and drought tolerance. “Right now, some hybrids are more drought tolerant than others,” explains Dennis Schlott, vice president of sales and product management at Fielder's Choice. “But it is achieved through conventional breeding. Transgenic drought tolerance is the type of thing you are going to see coming.”

Golden Harvest's Executive Vice President Jim Shearl agrees: “And further down the road, we'll see enhancements for yield. Corn will show better drought tolerance and continued improvements on disease problems that relate to stalk and plant strength.”

These traits may come into the pipeline in five to seven years.