Way back Wednesday
From Farming Smarter magazine Fall 2015
Corn production is exploding across the prairies and especially southern Alberta. The south with its hot, dry summers and irrigation suits grain corn as well as silage, but grazing corn, a system that's unique to western prairies, also expanded.
The increase in corn acreage is partly because our summers are longer than they were 20 or so years ago. The main driver has been the availability of corn hybrids that mature with fewer corn heat units. Pioneer kicked Alberta's corn industry up a gear last summer when it opened its 22,500 square foot Lethbridge Research Centre devoted entirely to corn for Alberta.
We have another corn research centre in Manitoba, " says Steven Ling Corn Research Director for DuPont-Pioneer. "But conditions are quite distinct from the eastern prairies here in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
"We find local selection extremely useful in developing corn hybrids for each area where we sell our products. It's something that applies to every area from the US South, mid-West and northern states to Canada. Each area needs very different genetics and that speaks to the importance of having local breeding facilities for local selection and not trying something you parachute in from somewhere else."
Pioneer has already made progress in developing corn for this area. This year, the company released three new hybrids, including one 2000 CHU (corn heat units) that allows for considerable expansion from the traditional grain corn area around Bow Island.
"We'll keep working to shave off CHU needs," says King. "An 18 to 1900 CHU hybrid with economic yield would give a margin of safety and make corn a good choice for more growers."
Good corn genetics is only a part of DuPont-Pioneer's investment in southern Alberta.
The company's core philosophy includes making investments for a successful, sustainable system. The vision for western Canada is to add new cropping opportunities for farmers, not a fad, but an option that has legs and strength for the long haul.
A cropping option with good returns helps farmers widen rotations focused on canola. The Pioneer corn breeding group is linked to sales representatives, mainly farmers and also to the technical sales group, a highly educated staff that bridges breeders and customers with agronomic and other support.
It takes many layers to build that successful, sustainable system, says King. Crop insurance is important, and it's being offered in more and more counties as the shorter season hybrids have become available. And, as more farmers see corn as a viable option in their rotations, equipment and services to handle the crop become easier to access.
Canola research is not done at the new facility at Lethbridge, but King expects soybean breeding will eventually come.
"Pioneer has been selling corn around the world for 90 years," he says. "Each country is different and we have to adapt to each unique environment with genetics for those conditions."
Check out some of our latest research on dryland corn agronomy:
Grain Corn Agronomy project page
Grain Corn and Strip Tillage
Dryland Corn Agronomy