By Rod Nickel
WINNIPEG, Manitoba, June 24 Seed developer
Monsanto Co said on Monday that it would spend $100
million over the next 10 years on breeding corn for Western
Canada, a move it said might change the crop makeup in a fertile
region that produces big harvests of spring wheat and canola.
Monsanto said it would focus on producing corn that matures
earlier than current varieties, making it a seeding option for
an area of Western Canada spanning 26 million acres (10.5
Factoring in farmers' crop rotations, corn may annually
occupy 8 million to 10 million acres of Western Canada by 2025,
Western Canada farmers grow grain corn for use in ethanol
plants and livestock rations on a relatively small area of
300,000 to 400,000 acres, nearly all of it in southern Manitoba.
Corn prices are attractive to Canadian farmers, but the
relatively short growing season in parts of Western Canada,
particularly in the top grain-growing province of Saskatchewan,
has led to a focus on wheat, canola, barley, oats and a host of
niche crops like mustard and lentils.
If corn catches on in Western Canada, it would continue the
crop's northwestern migration from traditional growing areas in
the U.S. Midwest. Corn has already changed the mix in the U.S.
northern Plains states of North Dakota and South Dakota, thanks
to a mix of better seed varieties, long-term warming trends and
Monsanto will aim to breed corn varieties that mature in 70
to 85 days. Currently, the earliest maturing variety in
Monsanto's Dekalb brand needs 76 days.
"But if you're able to drive down to 74, and then 72 and
even 70 and maybe lower, that opens up quite a large Western
Canadian geography," spokeswoman Trish Jordan said.
Monsanto's rival DuPont Pioneer also sees a bright
future for corn in Western Canada, likely at the expense of
other feed grains like barley and wheat.
"When farmers want to try corn, they're trying it in a very
significant way. They're going out to buy equipment to plant a
lot of acres," said Greg Stokke, DuPont's business director for
Last year, southeastern Saskatchewan saw more corn planted
than usual, leading to a bountiful harvest that other farmers
noticed, Stokke said.
"It felt like you were in Iowa. That's a glimpse of what's
going to come."
Based on DuPont's sales, corn acres are "definitely up" in
Western Canada again this year, he said.
Statistics Canada will report on Western Canada crop
plantings on Tuesday.
Farmers who are wary of growing corn for the first time tend
to be concerned about risk, Stokke said. Growing corn requires
farmers to acquire some new equipment, while frost before the
plant reaches the right maturity level leads to a discount in
Saltcoats, Saskatchewan farmer Kevin Elmy, who grows crops
for seed to sell to other farmers, has also seen the interest in
corn grow. But he said he remains cautious about its potential
because Saskatchewan lacks the heat of traditional corn-growing
areas, putting the onus on corn that can mature more quickly.
"If we ever get a good grain variety, there's huge
potential," he said. "Because when you look at the gross dollars
from corn, it's very attractive."
Potential markets for more corn already exist in Western
Canada. Husky Energy Inc owns a large ethanol plant at
Minnedosa, Manitoba and currently imports some of its corn
feedstock from the United States, Jordan said. The western
provinces also have large cattle sectors.
Monsanto's increased budget for breeding corn suitable for
Western Canada places it in the company's top three Canadian
spending priorities, behind canola and soybeans.