Water Balance and Drought Tolerance in Corn


  • Gain a better understanding of soil-water balance relative to corn crop production in northeastern South Dakota.
  • Determine necessary meteorological measurements to best assess crop water use and needs.

Study Description

  • Two Pioneer® brand Optimum® AQUAmax® hybrids and one comparative hybrid of similar maturity were planted to determine relative performance and water use efficiency, as indicated by yield results.
  • Each hybrid was planted in a large strip measuring 400 x 400 feet. The large dimensions were designed to allow for satellite observations of vegetative health.
  • Meteorological observations taken at the research site are being compared with a nearby enhanced total crop water use (evapotranspiration) monitoring site.

Research Location

Trial research site - cornfield, South Dakota

The research site in 2013 was in Brown County, S.D., near Groton. Due to crop rotation in the 2012 location, the station was moved and is now in an improved location. It will remain at this location in 2014.

2013 Preliminary Observations

  • The weather station was moved to a grass lot adjacent to the 2013 field site. With this update, equipment was upgraded to transmit data via cell modem every 10 minutes. The data are posted live online at the SDSU State Climate Office website and on their mobile website.
  • The 2013 season was cool and relatively moist through the pollination period. The graph below shows no precipitation deficit (black dots) in the crop until the third week in July when evapotranspiration began to outpace precipitation.
  • The season total precipitation deficit in this crop was approximately 9.7 (243 mm), primarily due to drought and heat in the grain filling period of August. Many aborted kernels were noted in ear samples taken at harvest.
  • Late-season moisture in September and October went to benefit soil moisture more than crop yield, as crop water demand was low during that period.
  • The total precipitation deficit was more than in 2012, but the timing of the shortage was all post-pollination in 2013. In 2012, there was never a period without water stress.

Graph - accumulated moisture deficit over a corn crop growing season.

Research conducted by Laura Edwards, South Dakota State University Extension, and Chris Hay and Jeppe Kjaersgaard, SDSU Department of  Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, as a part of the Pioneer Crop Management Research Awards (CMRA) Program. This program provides funds for agronomic and precision farming studies by university and USDA cooperators throughout North America. The awards extend for up to 4 years and address crop management information needs of Pioneer agronomists, Pioneer sales professionals and customers.

Product performance in water-limited environments is variable and depends on many factors such as the severity and timing of moisture deficiency, heat stress, soil type, management practices and environmental stress, as well as disease and pest pressures. All hybrids may exhibit reduced yield under water and heat stress. Individual results may vary.