DuPont Pioneer Receives Funding for Corn Variety Development in Alberta

DuPont Pioneer announced last week that they will be receiving a combined total grand of $1 million over five years from Alberta Innovates – Bio Solutions and the Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund. This funding will support the development of shorter season corn hybrids with an eye to expand corn production in the province.

“The idea of having early-season corn coming across the province gives us a real chance to increase our calories per acre, give our producers another crop in their menu,” said Stan Blade, CEO of Alberta Innovates Biosultions. “So it’s a great fit for Alberta and a good investment of our half a million dollars.”

Following the announcement, Twitter lit up with questions around the decision (hear more on that in Friday’s This Week on RealAg). When asked about government funding private research, Blade responded with this:

Will growers be expected to sign a Technology Use Agreement (TUA) for resulting hybrids? Yes, according to a DuPont Pioneer spokesperson, who explained the process as an industry standard.

“While Pioneer spends significant time and investments on the research and development of early maturity corn many teams aside from those in research are tasked with ensuring corn is a viable option in Alberta and the rest of Western Canada.”

Blade is confident DuPont Pioneer will have hybrids available to Albertan farmers in the next few years.

For more on last week’s news, check out the following video, where Blade talks about the recent announcement, why it’s important to invest in this kind of research and what farmers can expect to see as a result.

4 thoughts on “DuPont Pioneer Receives Funding for Corn Variety Development in Alberta

  1. At the risk of being banished from the Real Agriculture comment boards, I would like to add a few more thoughts on this research project. Putting aside the question about subsidizing a multi-national corporation, there is another reason why I have some concerns. Is corn development the best use for scarce research dollars? As Dr. Blade points out, corn is the most widely grown crop in the world. Does the world really need more corn acres? Isn’t the world already too dependent on a very select food crops? Do we want to be another “me too” corn producer. Or should we be looking to taking advantages of some our unique strengths. Corn originates from the semi-tropical part of the world. Like many other grasses that originate from that part of the world, it is a C4 plant. C4 is a term that refers to a plant’s photosynthetic pathway. C4 plants are more efficient with water, but less efficient with light. C4 plants are adapted bright, dry, warm places. C3 plants are more adapted to cooler, wetter, and cloudier environments. Most plants that are native to our part of the world, and that thrive here, are C3 plants. In fact crops that tend to do well in our part of the world are cool season crops that can only be grown as winter crops in many other parts of the world. This isn’t to say that there aren’t parts of Western Canada where C4 plants or corn aren’t adapted. Nor is it wise to underestimate plant breeders. They have done marvelous things over the past numbers of years, but there are limits imposed by biology. If it was my money to invest (ignoring for the moment that a very small fraction of it really is my money), I would not be looking to compete in a market where there are already many, many, players. I would be looking to see if there are niches where we have a competitive advantage. Are there underutilized cool season crops that we can develop? Have we exhausted the potential of the cool-season crops we already grow? The greatest successes usually do not come from doing what the rest of the world is doing. They are usually achieved by charting fresh new courses that utilize unique strengths and advantages.

  2. Good morning Terry:

    I like the endorsement for plant breeders! Very appropriate on the week of celebrating Norman Borlaug’s centennary. He is my hero-and had the chance to meet him during my time in international agriculture.

    I hope that your comment regarding being banned is in jest (or do you know something I don’t know about the tyranny of these Real Ag moderators?)-I think you have laid out a very reasonable line of thought.

    Here is my response. I will only discuss the work of AI Bio-I don’t have the chops to answer for all public investment! AI Bio has a wide portfolio of investments across five areas which our Board believes are important to the furture competitiveness and profitability of of Alberta industries: sustainable production, food innovation, bioindustrial refining, ecosystem services and prion research. I would welcome you to see the detail of those invesetments at http://bio.albertainnovates.ca/ (doesn’t seem to be a hyperlink function in the comment box).

    With respect to crop improvement I totally agree that we need to think about diversifying our crop options for our region. I worked as a crop diversification researcher for several years with a focus on pulses, but our work led to development in the spice and industrial hemp industries alongside other niche crops. I think I would make the exact opposite argument to your premise about corn. The introduction of this crop is a diversificaton opportunity to add to the menu of choices for Alberta farmers.

    We invest across all of the crops you describe. We agree that we want to give ourselves options based on strategic investments in oilseeds, pulses and cereals. I have no disagreement withi anything you have said about corn, but this chart ( http://bit.ly/1dNEu6h ) shows the remarkable yield increase due to research investment. Why not make that available to Alberta producers?

    To repeat, we see a future for a multitude of crops in the province-and we invest in key research on most of them. But we also believe that corn has a role to play.

    Thanks for your interest.

    AI Bio currently

  3. Thanks Dr. Blade for taking the time to reply and for the update on the activities of AI Bio. I did not intend my comments to reflect badly on the Real Ag moderators. It’s just that I have been pretty active on their boards lately, and they may be tiring of my strong views, especially on this topic. After they posted “This Week on RealAg — A Premier Resigns, CHS Makes a Big Move & Corn for Alberta”, I made my views known on using public money to support the research programs of multinationals. I hope you have a chance to look at them.

    Part of the reason I made these comments is because over the last few years, I have seen a lot of hype about grain corn production. My neighbor is a Pioneer rep, but his small foray into grain corn production flopped dramatically. Incidentally his enthusiasm, and competitive pressures from Monsanto are reasons why I think Pioneer would have invested in this area with or without our help. As an older farmer, this is not the first time I have seen hype about corn. Anybody remember Canamaize? This has led me to reflect a little bit on why we haven’t seen more corn acres before now. We as farmers are often exposed to the hype generated by new research but the hurdles that must be overcome receive far less press. I would prefer to let market forces determine where research money is to be invested, but if we are going to invest public money, the hurdles need to be discussed, so that intelligent decisions on research investments can be made. In the case of corn, I believe there are some biological limitations, as well as other issues that need to be considered, including equipment and infrastructure. I’m not yet convinced that it is, or will be a good option for very many prairie farmers. However as you suggest, diversification is a good thing and perhaps the best news for prairie agriculture would be that I am proved wrong.

  4. Diversification for the sake of diversification makes no sense unless biological (or rather actually biochemical) adaptation limitations of a specie (or rather limitations of it’s biochemical systems, for plants photosynthesis) are considered.
    Corn is a high input crop relying of heavy energy investment into future harvest, in view of weather fluctuations and eventually rising fossil fuel (gas and oil) energy cost the future potential niche for corn in central Canada should not substantially increase from it’s current size, corn is frost tender C4 annual with climatically narrow area of natural distribution, the list of “no”s even a multinational corporation (unfortunately publicly subsidized) cannot overcome. Well, unless it can create a wild rye-corn chimera.
    Why global corporation are pushing corn and soy? To control and monopolize the ag market of cause. As the result the field crop diversity in the Upper Midwest is decreasing as well as the number of family owned farms and industrial agriculture is taking over as health of the nation(s) declines.
    People are what they eat, farm animals people eat are not different.
    It’s now October, 2014, how the corn crop in central Canada looks this year? The answer proves Terry’s point.
    I wish more investment was made in perennial and alternative plants, potential crops (for instance from Eastern and Northern Eurasia, a funny note, hemp became a weed in Transbaikal local officials are trying to eradicate).

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