Chinese farmers will have access to more corn genetic technology starting this year. Stine Seed Company has long maintained contact with China and recently strengthened its relationship through a collaborative agreement with Beijing W. Seed.
“We’ve been making end roads in the Chinese market for about five years now,” says David Thompson, Stine director of sales and marketing. “It’s an emerging market. From a retail perspective the book is still being written on what that market potential is—but we know it’s high.”
China is leaps and bounds behind U.S. farmers when it comes to cultivating corn and soybeans—even though soybeans originated from the country. “China is adapting to cultural practices rapidly—they’re not to the point the U.S. is—but in advanced management software and drones they’re making significant progress,” Thompson says.
China not only has a different climate, but different management techniques that affect how well Stine’s hybrids perform. For example, higher population corn is common in the U.S., while Chinese farmers have only begun to consider that practice.
“Chinese farmers will gain access to a new source of genetic material they haven’t had before, and it gives us an outlet for material that doesn’t fit the U.S. market,” Thompson says.
“We test and evaluate about 20,000 genetically unique hybrids every year. Out of the 20,000, only two or three dozen ever see commercial production,” he adds.
Like many genetic companies, the idea is to create and test as many options as possible and keep only the best performers. Thousands of hybrids are wasted, so to maximize efforts, those seeds will be tested in China’s environment to see what can be used. In some cases, U.S. and Chinese farmers could be planting the same seed since some hybrids perform across a broad number of environments.
In China, both farm size and condition vary greatly, Thompson says. It’s a huge country with many diverse climates, but more challenging perhaps is how fragmented Chinese farms are. There are large-scale, state-owned farming operations in the country that involve tens of thousands of acres. At the other end of the spectrum are 250 million small farms with operators who own 1 acre of land. In the middle are “quasi-private” operations owned by the state but operated by entrepreneurial managers, similar to that of a 1,500- to 2,000-acre U.S. farm.
The new collaboration isn’t totally unproductive for U.S. farmers either, Thompson adds. “We think it’s beneficial to the U.S. farmer because whatever we can do to draw better relations with one of our biggest grain purchasers is a good thing,” he says.
The deal was signed in November, with President Donald Trump as well as representatives from 29 additional companies in attendance, with the intent of strengthening political ties and generating billions of dollars in trade deals. Stine is a leader in creating and licensing corn and soybean genetics domestically, and this agreement marks the company’s biggest step in the global landscape.