DuPont Pioneer studies corn, soybean varieties in Sask.

Ellis Clayton, technical product manager of DuPont Pioneer Canada, stands in front of corn trials conducted at the company’s research centre near Saskatoon.  |  Tennessa Wild Photo

DuPont Pioneer’s research centre near Saskatoon is broadening its crop diversification.

The centre has been in operation for more than 25 years but has historically worked only with canola.

However, this year it has planted ultra-early maturity hybrid corn and T-series soybean varieties.

Dave Charne, research director of DuPont Pioneer Canada, said the breeding program is delivering on strong biotech traits and improvements.

“Product lines like corn and soybeans, we’re actually breaking new ground in terms of earliness of products and adaptation to environments,” he said at a July 15 open house.

Corn in Canada is predominantly grown in Ontario, but Steven King, the company’s corn evaluation zone lead north, said trials in Saskatchewan are going well.

“I’ve been very impressed — second week of July now (and) there are tassels coming in the corn crop, which is a great sign for achieving maturity by the end of the year,” King said.

It typically takes 45 days after tasselling for corn to mature. The plots that were planted May 20 are expected to mature by early September and develop enough to be unaffected by a possible frost, said King.

Locally testing trials allow for the right adaptations to be made and chosen for further development down the pipeline, he said.

“We’re repeatedly testing those genetics over that eight to 10 year period… By the time we decide whether to commercialize something, we should have a high degree of confidence that that product is not going to be a failure,” he said.

“We shouldn’t be surprised by anything, and so the hybrids that we’ve already commercialized, we have that confidence already.”

Researchers at the Saskatoon centre are watching for early flowering and maturity in plants for genetic selection.

Chris Unger, DuPont Pioneer Canada’s research operations lead from Carmen, Man., said successful crops must mature in a short period of time. It is the most important trait needed for the area, he added.

“Right now I’m seeing, for some of our triple zero (short season soybean) varieties, we have really nice flowering going on, nice vegetative growth and actually at this point we got some nice pod development, which is good for this time of the year,” Unger said.

He knows farmers are looking for rotational crops and suspects soybeans will provide that opportunity in the next few years.

“As we develop the early germplasm, we’ll move soybeans out here, so the Saskatoon area will continue to develop,” he said.

“In the Outlook area we are selling some beans, but realistically in this area we’re probably one to two years out.”

Outlook, Sask., has the highest corn heat units in the province.

Unger said it’s too soon to make yield estimates, but he speculated that they could be pretty good with continued rain throughout August.

King said the ultra-early maturity corn is growing just as well, with P7005AM performing as anticipated.

“There’s been good weather conditions so far this season, and so that to me is the major driver of the early tasselling,” he said.

Uniformity and disease resistance are also monitored.

“It’s extremely important, as much as possible, to have every plant emerge at the same time,” King said. “If you get uneven emergence, then those short plants, they never catch up.”

The base genetics take a long time to develop, but once established, the transgenic technology traits, disease resistance, herbicide resistance and insect resistance, are added, he said.

“We’ve been breeding in Manitoba for almost a decade and we’ve just commercialized 2,000 heat gain unit hybrids in the last two years that’s really helping us manage that maturity aspect, so each year from now we’re going to continue to make progress,” he said.

King said water is expected to be limited in Western Canada in the future, which has prompted the company to develop genetics that will withstand drought.

Ellis Clayton, technical product manager of DuPont Pioneer Canada, was positive about the future of prairie agriculture.

“I think more diverse rotations give growers flexibility, so they can be profitable on their farm.”

He said the future looks bright as new crops are introduced to the region.

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