Monsanto expands corn breeding

Manitoba facility open | Breeding, testing sites also planned for Saskatchewan, Alberta

Monsanto is boosting efforts to bring early-maturing corn hybrids to Western Canada.

Earlier this year, the seed technology company established a corn breeding facility in Carman, Man.

It was the first big step in a $100 million effort to provide a new crop option for western Canadian farmers.

The second step is coming soon.

“This coming year we’ll be pushing further west with our programs,” said Sam Eathington, vice-president of global plant breeding.

The company intends to establish a second western Canadian corn-breeding facility in Saskatchewan or Alberta or perhaps portions in both provinces.

“We’re still kind of finalizing our plans, but it looks like we’re looking for land and facilities in both areas,” said Eathington.

“We may put a breeding program in Saskatchewan and more of a field testing program out in Alberta, where we can send our material and test it.”

Monsanto announced in June that it was spending $100 million over 10 years to produce corn hybrids suitable to be grown on 26 million acres in Western Canada.

The company has hired breeders, testing managers, agronomists and field experts to work out of the Carman facility.

“We put about a dozen people on the ground this past year,” said Eathington.

It doubled Monsanto’s Canadian corn breeding efforts, which had previously been focused in Ontario.

Eathington said the facility or facilities that will be built in Sask-atchewan and/or Alberta will be about the same size as Carman. No locations have been selected.

Monsanto has two corn hybrids on the market with about 75 days of relative maturity.

“We clearly think we need to be at least another five days earlier,” he said. “We have material that we’re pretty convinced will easily be able to do 70 days, and who knows, maybe even a little bit earlier.”

The company needs to further test tens of thousands of hybrids to find lines with 70-day or earlier maturity that also have the best standability, grain quality, tolerance to light frosts and, most importantly, the yields that growers require.

Eathington is confident Monsanto can deliver early-maturing corn hybrids that yield in the 110 to 120 bushel per acre range, which would make corn an economically viable crop in Western Canada.

“We’re still a couple of years away from probably that 70-day corn being available,” he said.

The company believes eight to 10 million acres of corn could be grown in Western Canada by 2025 based on a conservative rotation of corn grown once every three years.

He said acreage could surpass that level once growers become comfortable with the crop and switch to growing corn every two years.

“There’s a lot of interest in it,” said Eathington.

Today’s crop economics suggest corn would take acres away from wheat and barley grown for livestock feed.

“Those would be the ones that would be the easiest ones to substitute out for corn and would probably be the first targets,” he said.

Bryan Walton, general manager of the National Cattle Feeders’ Association, doesn’t care what type of feed is produced in Western Canada.

“What we want is a good source of feed, whether it’s corn, wheat or barley, that it’s close by and that it’s affordable to the cattle feeders,” he said.

Walton said it would be good for grain farmers to have another crop option, and cattle feeders would use corn if the economics are right.

However, there could be growing pains.

“Most of the feedlots are set up for barley. Corn would require different equipment,” he said.

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