Farm Progress

What seed corn companies hope to accomplish with winter nurseries in Hawaii

Beck's is the latest company to open a research program in Hawaii.

Tom Bechman 1, Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

November 21, 2016

3 Min Read

Beck’s is the first regional seed company to announce it would set up a winter corn breeding program in Hawaii. On Oct. 3, Beck’s purchased a 13,000-square-foot facility previously owned by a company that discontinued its breeding program

Beck’s joins national players that already have facilities in Hawaii. They include Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer, Dow AgroSciences and Monsanto.

Why do companies make this investment? Here is Indiana Prairie Farmer's interview with Kevin Cavanaugh, Beck’s director of research, to explain one company’s motivation for establishing a winter nursery site in Hawaii.


IPF: Where is the facility located, and what makes that area so attractive for winter nurseries?

Cavanaugh: We’re located on Kauai. The facility is actually located on the south and west side of the island, which is the flat side. Annual rainfall is only 13.9 inches per year.

The kicker is that in the mountains there, annual rainfall is 453 inches. It’s one of the wettest spots in the world. Reservoirs have been built to hold water coming down from the mountains. There is plenty of water for irrigation, usually with a drip tape system.

IPF: Where was your winter research before?

Cavanaugh: Much of it was in South America. We moved a significant amount of it to Hawaii immediately. We made the purchase just in time for the fall planting season. We still have some work done at nurseries in South America.

IPF: What was the motivation to purchase this facility and develop your own winter nursery program?


Cavanaugh: It allows us to better control our own destiny looking to the future. And while it’s still an expensive part of conducting research, we believe we can do it more economically than when we shipped it for others to grow in South America.

We don’t actually own the land under the buildings. No one there does. The land is owned by the state of Hawaii, and leased to us. We also lease about 1,000 acres near our facility. There also tends to be fewer challenges in Hawaii than in South America, especially in respect to diseases.

IPF: What types of things can you accomplish in the winter nursery?

Cavanaugh: We have breeding efforts to develop new inbreds going on there. We also can do parent seed increases there. The seed then comes back to the U.S. for our spring growing season.

We also intend to begin doing the initial steps of inserting traits into our hybrids in the winter nursery. Currently we do trait insertion in our greenhouses in Atlanta, Ind. We will still utilize our greenhouses. Starting the process there will mean we don’t have to build more greenhouses here as we expand our programs.

IPF: How were you able to gear up so quickly and get seed in the ground in October?

Cavanaugh: We purchased the equipment needed to run the nursery along with the facility. It’s very expensive to transport tractors and other equipment from the U.S. mainland to Hawaii, so we will work with what was there. We also hired seven employees who worked for the previous company. They are now key players in helping us develop our winter nursery program there.  

About the Author(s)

Tom Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

Tom Bechman is an important cog in the Farm Progress machinery. In addition to serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer, Tom is nationally known for his coverage of Midwest agronomy, conservation, no-till farming, farm management, farm safety, high-tech farming and personal property tax relief. His byline appears monthly in many of the 18 state and regional farm magazines published by Farm Progress.

"I consider it my responsibility and opportunity as a farm magazine editor to supply useful information that will help today's farm families survive and thrive," the veteran editor says.

Tom graduated from Whiteland (Ind.) High School, earned his B.S. in animal science and agricultural education from Purdue University in 1975 and an M.S. in dairy nutrition two years later. He first joined the magazine as a field editor in 1981 after four years as a vocational agriculture teacher.

Tom enjoys interacting with farm families, university specialists and industry leaders, gathering and sifting through loads of information available in agriculture today. "Whenever I find a new idea or a new thought that could either improve someone's life or their income, I consider it a personal challenge to discover how to present it in the most useful form, " he says.

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