August 14, 2020

Growing hardier corn crops and economic opportunities in rural Alberta - Alberta Innovates

In Alberta, the requirement for hot and long growing seasons has limited grain corn production for livestock consumption to the southern irrigation districts. This is the only region that typically receives enough heat to support corn hybrids.

To address this challenge, Alberta Innovates partnered with the Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund, a producer-driven research and development investment organization, to fund a corn research program in Lethbridge operated by Corteva Agriscience.

Crop diversification and economic opportunity

The establishment of an intensive corn breeding program to overcome environmental limitations has provided Alberta producers with the ability for further crop diversification and economic opportunity.

Alberta Innovates invested $1 million while Corteva contributed $6.5 million. The five-year project resulted in the commercialization of 19 new hybrids through local breeding and characterization efforts, and is expected to continue generating two new hybrids each year beyond the project close.

The commercial offerings resulting from this effort now serve a diverse market and fit a broad range of adaptation within Alberta. The project also resulted in the establishment of this research facility with a high-performance team of plant scientists, research equipment and multiple plot testing sites.

Increase in corn acres

This project is significantly responsible for the increase in corn acres in Alberta. By the end of the project, the number of corn acres planted in the province had gone from 175,000 to 290,000.

Continuing to expand the growing adaptation area makes grain corn a viable crop option across a broader geography in Alberta. This adds a new, high-margin crop to rotations, enhancing both grower financials and agronomics.

For the Alberta livestock industry, this provides more locally produced grain corn with premium feed value, reduces imports and improves the economics of Alberta hog and beef cattle farming.

Other end-users are expected to benefit from more local corn, such as the ethanol industry, dry and wet milling, farm equipment suppliers and fertilizer suppliers.

The Lethbridge Research Centre provides knowledge intensive employment for university graduates as well as seasonal employment for students and others. Well over 100 university and casual staff were hired over the course of five summers to help execute the research program.