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Seed Corn Coming from South America Carries High Price Tag

Companies scramble to introduce newest genetics by growing it overseas.

In the ever-changing world of hybrid seed corn, time is money. So many companies are opting to grow salable quantities of their best genetics overseas, rather than have to wait another year to introduce the new material.

One of those companies is a small seed firm in Tiffin, Ohio, Bird Hybrids LLC. Dave Nanda, president of the company, is also a long-time plant breeder and consultant fro the Corn Illustrated project sponsored by Farm Progress Companies. Recently, Nanda talked about the process of bringing seed from South America to grow in the U.S.

It's not a new process, he notes. Some companies have done it for many years. But it's starting to show up even amongst smaller companies who are trying to put themselves in a position to offer the latest, newest genetics to farmers, just as the bigger companies do. If a company has a hot hybrid that did well in testing this past fall, they may not want to wait to grow it here in '08, then not be able to sell the first bag of it for planting until '09. With fierce competition and rapidly changing market conditions and desires of farmers, the hybrid might not be as hot by spring '09 as it is now.

Companies have done two things to speed up the process. One is to do much of the backcrossing and gene trait transfer work here, in the U.S. during the winter, in greenhouses. Beck's Hybrids, for example, continues to add greenhouses and increase the amount of work they do on their own during the winter in crop development almost annually.

Greenhouses are fine for producing the corn of the future, or for getting that corn into the last stages of being ready for market. But it would be cost-prohibitive, to say the least, to use greenhouses to try to grow enough actual seed corn to meet the needs of growers.

That's where the second season overseas comes in. Many companies maintain nurseries there, in places like Hawaii or Puerto Rice. Now they're also contracting with seed concerns in those regions to raise the first batch of seed for new hybrid that they've already added to their line-up.

One drawback to raising seed in South America is that it winds up being expensive, Nanda says. Working through companies there to grow corn and then ship it back here is not a cheap process, the experienced plant breeder notes.

The other problem is whether the seed will get harvested, processed and shipped in time to be used in a timely basis here in the U.S. As planting date has moved forward, it can become nip and tuck on getting the corn here before people want to plant it. Whether someone will wait may depend upon how good the hybrid sis perceived to be.

Bird hybrids has two hybrids coming in very limited quantities form South America for spring planting, Nanda adds. They're not here yet, of course, but he hopes to see them before many people start planting. These hybrids represent some of the best genetics in the market, plus they carry Hurculex Bt and Herculex XTRA rootworm protection, according to Nanda. They'll be worth waiting for, Nanda believes.

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