Corn’s future touted for West

ARDROSSAN, Alta. — The main focus at Pioneer DuPont’s new Edmonton Research Center may be canola, but corn will play an important role in the centre’s future.

John Soper, vice-president of crop genetics research and development in charge of the company’s plant breeding projects around the world, said it is possible to have a full corn-breeding program at the centre.

“We believe corn has a very important future in this area,” said Soper during the grand opening of the research station along the busy Highway 16, east of Edmonton.

“Our goal is to develop and deliver early corn genetics that are adapted to this area and to all of Western Canada.”

When Soper began his career as a soybean breeder 25 years ago, corn was only grown as far north as central Minnesota. Now corn has crept into Manitoba and is coming west.

Ian Grant, Pioneer DuPont president, said he expects corn to displace 10 percent of the 35 million acres of cereal crops in Western Canada.

Displacing 10 percent of the cereals with corn would double the amount of corn grown in Canada now.

“We think 10 percent is a conservative estimate and we’re investing in facilities like this to drive that to a higher place than 10 percent,” said Grant, who is looking at Alberta’s livestock industry as a natural market for increasing corn acres.

“It certainly provides a higher value feeding stock for cattle.”

Dave Charne, Pioneer DuPont’s research director also said corn will play a larger role at the centre.

“We believe corn has a very important future in this area. Our goal is to develop and deliver early corn genetics that are adapted to this area and to all of Western Canada.”

Tom Van Moorsel, a corn and silage specialist with Pioneer, said it has been an uphill battle to develop high quality, early maturing corn varieties that aren’t one-hit wonders for the Alberta market.

Corn was introduced to central Alberta in 1998 with plenty of skeptics.

“They called us crazy then,” said Van Moorsel, of Red Deer.

“Early on it was a crop that was hit and miss, but now it’s pretty successful year after year,” he said.

Corn varieties now mature earlier and have higher yields. It takes the climate better here, and takes stresses early and late in the season.

“If you have a one hit wonder, people will try it once and go away from it.”

The acid test for corn’s success for Van Moorsel is the number of farmers buying new corn equipment.

Vegreville farmer Daryl Tuck said having corn research at the central Alberta research centre gives farmers one more crop option.

“Corn is an opportunity to produce more feed on the same land. Any crop that can potentially increase output allows that to continue,” said Tuck.

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