Early maturing corn varietiesfocus of new research facility

Soybean research also planned | Dupont Pioneer says Lethbridge is ideal location

About 2,200 heat units are needed to bring grain corn to maturity and many areas of the Prairies fail to reach that number during the few months we have of frost-free growing days.

That’s why earlier maturing varieties of corn would be a boon to growers. And that’s why DuPont Pioneer just broke ground on a 22,500 sq. foot research facility east of Lethbridge where it intends to breed those
 varieties.

“The overview is that DuPont Pioneer really sees a huge opportunity across all of Western Canada to introduce early maturity corn and early maturity soybean … to growers in Western Canada,” said corn research director Steve King.

“We of course already sell a line up of canola products, so the ability to have canola, corn and soybean to-gether across Western Canada would be a great option.”

Dupont Pioneer says interest in grain corn is increasing and sees Alberta’s climate ideal for its research facility.  |  File photo

Dupont Pioneer says interest in grain corn is increasing and sees Alberta’s climate ideal for its research facility. | File photo

The site is near the company’s canola facility along Highway 3. Corn test plots and concrete footings were the only visible signs of the new venture as of Aug. 6.

Corn has been grown in the Leth-bridge and Taber areas for many years, primarily for silage, with a small amount for the fresh market. However, interest in grain corn has increased.

King said DuPont has been breeding corn in Manitoba for years but southern Alberta’s climate and geography made it a logical place to expand those efforts.

“One advantage is that it does have some existing corn growing areas that have sufficient heat for today’s genetics,” he said. There are also areas nearby where the season is too short for existing varieties.

“Easy access to those types of environments was critical for us.”

As well, the region has irrigation and dryland cropping for a wider range of conditions in which to test.

“The most effective way to make breeding progress is to actually do all the initial research work locally,” King said. “So whatever market you’re trying to capture, if you do all the initial breeding and population work in that local environment and select in that local environment, then your probability of being successful, of having a product at the end of the pipeline that is commercializable, is much, much higher.”

Once operational, the new facility will first concentrate on corn breeding but King said early maturity soybeans will be part of the later plan.

The company also has a long-term lease on adjacent property that has a centre pivot irrigation system, and rents a 10-acre field elsewhere for its hybrid test plots.

King said four full-time professionals have already been hired and the facility will require seasonal workers.

Its building, which will be in Lethbridge County, is expected to open in November.

County reeve Lorne Hickey said in a news release that it will complement other agricultural and bio-industrial endeavours in the region.

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