JOHNSTON, Iowa — What’s in your pipe? What are your company’s plans for the future? Those are reasonable questions for world-class businesses that develop tools that farmers need. It’s also important for the world’s food supply and that makes it important for all society.
There are few very large players in agricultural genetics and chemicals. Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, Bayer, BASF and DuPont are the biggest.
Steve Reno directs business activities for DuPont Pioneer in North America and said all the larger players have responsibilities that extend beyond their shareholders to the larger society.
“What we deliver requires farmers, our customers,” he said.
His company regularly surveys its grower-customers and they recently identified three-year goals for their farms that would include increasing yields by 15 to 20 percent.
He said modern genetics can create some of that increase, however to reach those levels, if they are achievable, the company has to leverage a combination of its assets, including the DuPont agricultural chemical division and an extended team of agronomy researchers and front-line agronomists.
“It’s more than what is in the (seed) bag. (It takes) a whole farm solution,” said Reno, at a meeting in Johnston, Iowa, the company’s head office and research home.
“This is about more than what companies like ours have traditionally delivered,” he said referring to the integration of seed, agronomy and pesticide businesses.
He said Monsanto is trying to accomplish the same integration with its overtures to buy rival Syngenta and its diverse genetics and chemical portfolios.
Dow, too, has made steps to integrate its business with the creation of Dow Seeds, bringing the two major agriculture silos together.
“We are going to continue to evaluate (the Monsanto and Syngenta proposed deal). We think growers need good competition in the marketplace, so more (companies) are better. We are already there, with seed and crop protection services and a strong dealer network,” he said.
He said DuPont Pioneer’s polling told the company that farmers are asking for a complete package.
“The ag economy is in a different place than it was three, four or five years ago and farmers are looking for wider solutions to yield,” said Reno.
In corn country, the company has developed a fee for service, priced by the acre, program called Encirca. It involves farmers having weather stations on site.
With the support from local agronomists, the system puts farmers’ crop data, field soil samples and weather into the hopper and delivers integrated plans for top dressing nitrogen fertilizer and crop planning.
Kenny O’Brien of Pioneer said the current recommendations for fertilizer use might not even take into account the genetic potential of all current hybrid crops.
He also said if a farmer tried to manage his 1970 crop varieties with today’s fertility programs and pesticides, he wouldn’t have much yield success as the genetics are selected to take advantage of the current agronomy. The converse is also true.
In Western Canada, the company’s research pipeline is close to delivering new tools and has some longer-term plans as far as wheat.
Geoff Graham leads hybrid crop development at the company.
“We have doubled average yields since 1970. Why wouldn’t we expect to be able to do that again by 2055?” he said.
That gain was not entirely based on genetics.
“We did it using technologies and products we didn’t even know existed. We soon will be using tools that we don’t have today.”
Steve Schnebly of the company said it costs less today to map a whole genome than it does to plant a single breeder’s plot.
“Things will move really fast now,” he said.
That is likely a result of having tools that allow breeders to lay in same-plant traits along a chromosome, exactly where they need to be, to get uninterrupted genetic expression in the cropped plant.
The company is releasing a new corn rootworm genetic line, 4114 or Qrom, as it will be known, that doesn’t interrupt other useful genes in a wide range of germplasm. Previous rootworm products interfered with other, useful genetics, meaning where the best genetic rootworm defences were included, the plants couldn’t have a variety of other helpful traits.
As well, a new canola variety will soon optimize a new DuPont glyphosate product, widening the application window for producers.
Pioneer also plans to offer a Liberty Link trait stack. These will represent products the company feels with reach up to 50 million acres of production, but less than $100 million in sales for the company.
Hybrid rice is well on its way, and while that doesn’t mean much to prairie farmers, it opens the door to hybrid wheat, which is currently a focus for Graham.
The seed treatment Lumiderm was released last year, however the company is working to optimize all of its seed treatment processes and deliveries with a new seed treatment research and training facility that opened at its Johnston, Iowa, home last week.
And a new sunflower seed treatment, Limisena, is nearing release.
In soybeans, a true 000, very early soybean with multiple modes of herbicide resistance is also expected to reach farmers during the next several years.
The company’s new 70 corn-heat-unit corn is available for next spring and a 69 is on its way, said Schnebly.