Corn, soybean expansion projected

If Monsanto’s calculations are right, prairie farmers could be growing eight to 10 million acres of corn and six to eight million acres of soybeans a year once short season varieties are available.

Such a change would significantly reduce wheat and barley acreage in most of Manitoba and much of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan.

“If farmers could average 110 bushels per acre, corn is king, canola is second and soybeans are third,” Monsanto Canada vice-president for strategy Neil Arbuckle told the Canadian Global Crops Symposium.

“Wheat, barley and others (fall) behind by a substantial margin.”

Arbuckle said prairie farmers should begin seeing new short-season corn hybrids by the late 2010s or early 2020s, while with soybeans “the march westward has commenced.”

Monsanto’s recent $100 million investment in Western Canada friendly corn variety breeding was based on its analysis of how farmers in Ontario and North Dakota reacted once they could achieve 110 bushel per acre yields.

“Growers began increasing their corn acres and reducing their wheat acres,” said Arbuckle.

“Corn, canola and soybeans all increased in acres, mostly at the expense of wheat and barley.”

Relative maturity must be reduced to a maximum value of 70, or about 20,000 heat units, if corn and soybean acres are to spread beyond the tiny pockets of production now possible. Arbuckle said Monsanto hopes relative maturity of 67 to 69 is possible.

Twenty-six million acres in Western Canada could host corn and soybean crops, but Arbuckle said Monsanto doesn’t expect to see that acreage develop quickly, even when the first good hybrids are available for the new areas.

“We expect it is going to take a while for the breeders to deliver and a while for farmers to warm up to the idea and a while for the industry to warm up to the idea and make the investments to handle this crop,” said Arbuckle.

All competing crops will lose acreage in the new corn and soybean zone as the new crops arrive. Monsanto estimates that wheat acreage will fall 30 percent and canola 25 percent, while other smaller acreage crops will all lose some of their share.

Canola, while losing acres, will still be an attractive crop for farmers based on returns.

“We also think that canola acres can be maintained in that geography as well, in the five and a half to six million acre range,” said Arbuckle.

The six to eight million acres of soybeans and eight to 10 million acres of corn will fit well into prairie farmers’ rotation, he added, which will allow improved weed control because of the new diversity of choices.

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