Drought news: GMO crops to the rescue?

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From the Los Angeles Times (Ricardo Lopez) via The Denver Post:

Agricultural biotechnology companies have been pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into developing plants that can withstand the effects of a prolonged dry spell. Monsanto Co., based in St. Louis, has received regulatory approval for DroughtGard, a corn variety that contains the first genetically modified trait for drought resistance.

Seed makers, such as Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. of Johnston, Iowa, and Swiss company Syngenta, are already selling drought-tolerant corn varieties, conceived through conventional breeding.

At stake: a $12 billion U.S. seed market, with corn comprising the bulk of sales. The grain is used in such things as animal feed, ethanol and food. The push is also on to develop soybean, cotton and wheat that can thrive in a world that’s getting hotter and drier.

“Drought is definitely going to be one of the biggest challenges for our growers,” said Jeff Schussler, senior research manager for Pioneer, the agribusiness arm of DuPont. “We are trying to create products for farmers to be prepared for that.”

Their efforts come amid concerns about genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, and the unforeseen consequences of this genetic tinkering. Californians in November will vote on Proposition 37, which would require foods to carry labels if they were genetically modified. The majority of corn seed sold is modified to resist pests and reap higher yields.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The lack of rainfall has pushed flows on the Arkansas River to low levels that are being maintained mostly by releases from Pueblo Dam by municipalities leasing water to farmers.

“This is kind of a weird place to be,” Division Engineer Steve Witte told the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board Thursday. “It is a strange set of circumstances we find ourselves in.”[…]

Thursday, the flow at Moffat Street was under 50 cubic feet per second. Other than a brief surge after some rain last week, flows have been under 100 cfs all month, about one-third of average. The target minimum is 100 cfs, under a 2004 flow agreement Inflows to Lake Pueblo have been about 200 cfs throughout most of the summer, and the Bessemer Ditch and Board of Water Works require about half of that. “It’s been hard to maintain 100 cfs,” Witte said. At the Avondale gauge station, the Arkansas River met average flows only briefly in July, and has been well below average on most days since May.

For much of the summer, when it does not rain, the call has been stuck at the Rocky Ford Ditch’s 1874 water right. Downstream, the river has been split into four calls many days, as water is diverted and return flows bring the water level back. “I can’t recall we’ve ever had a four-way call,” Witte said.

Kansas has elected not to run the water it has stored in John Martin under terms of the Arkansas River Compact because most of it would be lost running down the river.

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