Companies invest in hybrids made for Canada
So where is corn acreage expanding the fastest in North America? If you guessed North Dakota, you’re not quite right but moving in the right direction. Hint: You’ll need your passport. A growing number of Canadian farmers are ramping up corn production, but the real growth is still five to 10 years out. First, seed companies are spending big bucks to get corn maturity dates below 70 days.
"Five years ago I planted 300 acres of corn. Now it’s nearly 600 acres, and in five years I could double it again," says Myron Krahn, a Carman, Manitoba, farmer who also raises soybeans, wheat and oats. "Corn has more risk here, but the greater the risk, the greater the reward." Krahn, like thousands of other producers, is scaling down small grain production and increasing his corn and soybean acreage.
Although Ontario is home to more than half of Canada’s corn production, the newest action is in two of the prairie provinces. Leading the charge are Manitoba, where corn acreage has doubled to 380,000 in just two years, and Alberta, which grows almost 25,000 acres of corn. Between 2011 and 2013, corn acreage for all of Canada was up a modest 15% to 3.7 million acres because the two eastern provinces that lead Canadian corn output, Ontario and Quebec, have been growing corn for a long time.
In terms of yields, Manitoba is right on par with the Red River Valley region in North Dakota and Minnesota with a 140 bu. to 150 bu. per acre average.
Admittedly, 3.689 million acres doesn’t sound like much. That number is right at what Missouri farmers grow and less than what Ohio, the No. 7 state in U.S. corn production, raises. So what’s all the fuss about Canadian corn production? The growth potential is promising based on the combination of hybrids under development and the potential for a longer growing season due to climate change.
Companies invest in earlier maturing hybrids. Behind farmers, leading the corn charge are significant investments by a number of seed companies. For example, in 2013, Monsanto announced a $100 million research, testing and field staff investment for earlier maturing hybrids for Canada.
"We think corn acreage in western Canada could grow to 8 million to 10 million acres in 10 to 15 years," says Dan Wright, trait launch lead for Monsanto Canada.
That would represent a staggering 2,400% increase from 2013’s 400,000 acres in western Canada and place total Canadian corn acreage just below that of Illinois.
"Because of new market opportunities in western Canada, we have a lot of breeding efforts underway specific to that region and some shorter maturing hybrids might be introduced as early as 2015," says Steven King, DuPont Pioneer research director for Canada.
Hybrids are a major driver, but the velocity of corn acreage growth in both the far northern U.S. and CFor a complete breakdown of corn production in Canada, visitanada probably wouldn’t have happened without $6 to $7 per bushel corn prices.
It’s not a singular vertical line up, though. Canadian corn acreage this year, for example, is projected to drop 7% to 10% from 2013’s peak, compared to a 4% decline in the U.S. But seed companies remain bullish long term based on their firm beliefs that betting on new hybrids with earlier maturity dates will pay off.
"We need to take 72- to 74-day hybrids and early them up, down to 68 [days]," says Steve Denys, vice president, sales and marketing for Pride Seeds, a Canadian seed company that’s part of AgReliant Genetics. He thinks it’s quite possible for western Canada to grow up to 5 million acres of corn within 15 to 20 years.