Agrisure Artesian Technology Helps Growers Manage Water More Efficiently

Syngenta researchers credit teamwork for spurring the development of a trait that helps growers make the most of their available water.
The Agrisure traits portfolio helps corn flourish at the Syngenta Advanced Crop Lab in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina
At the Syngenta Advanced Crop Lab in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, scientists continue to identify new Agrisure Artesian genes that offer growers a practical option to meet water challenges.
The No. 1 factor affecting crop growth and development is weather, according to Fred Below, Ph.D., professor of plant physiology at University of Illinois. Of all the factors limiting yield, weather is unlike any other: It is out of anyone’s control.

Being at the mercy of the weather causes a kind of stress very familiar to those close to the world of agriculture. Adrian Lund, Ph.D., principal research scientist at Syngenta, is one of those people.

“Drought hurts people,” Lund says. “It stresses families and diminishes the health of farmers through additional physical and psychological stress.”

Before Agrisure Artesian® technology was developed, the corn industry relied on traditional breeding techniques to identify drought tolerant corn hybrids, often at the expense of yield. Lund contributed to the work spearheaded by a Syngenta team of researchers, including Robert Bensen, Ph.D., and Todd Warner. Led by Dirk Benson, Ph.D., this team saw an opportunity; and instead of the challenge overwhelming them, they asked how they could overcome it. They found the answer through biotechnology and a lot of teamwork.
Water optimization technology is a key focus for @SyngentaUS R&D.

click to tweet

Leveraging the Power of Technology

By the early 2000s, the team set its target: Create a fully catalogued bank of corn’s genetic makeup. As recently as 10 years ago, the idea was still a mere pipe dream. It would prove to be an extremely difficult challenge from a research perspective. But it was also a specific one, as it gave the group a viable objective to develop a scientific approach.

The human genome consists of around 2.9 billion base pairs. Comparatively, the corn genome has 2 billion. In other words, corn is complicated. Because of this complexity, the passion, dedication and creativity of the Syngenta crew behind the exploration of corn’s germplasm were essential. Each of the 50,000 genes present in corn has multiple variances and alleles. The process to discover which of those 50,000 genes both respond to and affect drought tolerance is a puzzle, requiring patience, expertise and faith. It looks a lot like a scientist running computer code, comparing the gene database to the performance database searching for parallels and connections.

At the time Artesian research and discovery began, the ability to use phenomic technology to create native traits was also brand new. There were other technologies on the market at the time, namely genetically modified (GM) traits that sought to help with drought resistance. However, because there are thousands of genes in corn that control water retention and are impacted by drought, a GM solution proved too simple; it would not provide the improved metabolic performance that this level of complexity demanded. The team had to think bigger.
Agrisure Artesian hybrids (right) perform under water pressure in Colwich, Kansas (2018).

Research into impactful technologies that bring a new level of performance to crops requires a stringent dedication to continuous improvement. It requires a belief, from top to bottom within an organization, that putting time, money and resources into a project that could radically change the agricultural landscape is well worth the investment.

A Competitive Edge

Over the next decade, research scientists at Syngenta labored, collaborating extensively with breeders, molecular biologists, mathematicians, geneticists, plant physiologists, farmers, academics and marketers across the globe to isolate and breed for the correct genes that brought Agrisure Artesian to life.

According to Todd Warner, Syngenta genetic project lead, it wasn’t until the first Artesian hybrids performed well under drought stress compared with non-Artesian hybrids in a test field that they realized the work they were doing was actually going to make an impact.

Agrisure Artesian hybrids (left) help corn plants manage water more efficiently. Magic Valley, Idaho (2013).
In the midst of thousands of corn genome tests and cornfield tests, it was a dynamic organizational chassis that paved the way for Syngenta to get to Agrisure Artesian technology. Syngenta and its competitors each have unique assets, but Syngenta learned to mine its strengths—an extensive proprietary germplasm, technological capabilities and a collaborative environment—to gain a competitive edge and provide hybrids with the most advanced genes and trait stacks available today.

Using technology and collaboration, Syngenta streamlined a methodology to enhance what nature already designed with Agrisure Artesian, an innovative product that protects genetic yield potential in both drought and perfect weather.

Artesian hybrids provide consistency of performance and the ability to help growers manage variability across microclimates. Growers can plant Artesian hybrids on corn-on-corn acres and less productive acres—even sandy ground—and visibly notice a difference compared to nontraited hybrids. This variability far exceeds what scientists thought possible for the Artesian technology 10 years ago.

Raising the Bar

It is now more than six years since Syngenta commercialized the initial set of Wave I alleles and Artesian hybrids hit the market. Both Wave II and Wave III alleles have been developed since, each representing a step change in the ability of Syngenta to discover and stack drought-tolerance genes into commercial products and in technology’s ability to enable faster, more comprehensive results. Syngenta remains dedicated to the continued exploration and research to identify even more genes that impact drought tolerance, continuing to set the standard and raise the bar in the market for water-optimizing hybrids.