The Iowa-based seedcorn company started by ag pioneer Henry Wallace is eighty years old this year. Though Dupont now owns Pioneer Hi-Bred, spokesman Jerry Harrington says it’s still on the leading edge of crop science.

Before 1926, farmers would just keep and replant some seeds from the best corn crops they grew, and when Wallace and some business investors began the company, it was the first working on the hybridization process and selling corn hybrids. Harrington says the qualities they worked on from the start were quality and high yield.

In recent years they’ve gone for special qualities like B-T corn that’s insect-resistant, and plants with the ability to resist plant-killing herbicide chemicals. Harrington says it’s the kind of work that has led to farmers reporting higher yields from the crops they grow all the time.

He says 2004 was a record with 164 bushels of corn per acre grown nationally, and says we’re nearing that again this year, even though some parts of the country were hurt by drought. He agrees that ethanol’s a big reason for corn prices also reaching record highs this year, and says Pioneer’s made that a priority for research into still more newer strains of seed-corn.

That new demand is one of the reasons he says the company already went back to its records a few years ago and ranked all its corn hybrids in a range showing their “fermentability” — the ability to produce ethanol. The strains in the upper range for that quality have been categorized as “high total fermentables,” a category that includes about 135 hybrids out of the 300 Pioneer sells in North America.

Harrington says this year 17 of the top 20 selling corn hybrids were “high fermentables,” because the qualities that make corn good for ethanol production also make it desirable for other reasons. Up to now, the company’s combed through its existing hybrids to categorize them for their value in making ethanol. Now, he says, the next stage is working with breeders to come up with those valuable characteristics on purpose — making use of technology like “molecular markers” and other breeding techniques.

Related web sites:
Pioneer website