South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard detailed many advances made in South Dakota’s No. 1 industry – agriculture – during recent decades while speaking at a Pioneer Hi-Bred celebration earlier this month in Volga, S.D.
He said there is now 63 percent more milk produced in the state from 58 percent fewer cows, 176 percent more pork with 44 percent fewer sows, 333 percent more corn on just 11 percent more acres and 11 times more soybeans on only five times more acres since 1950.
Pioneer has had a role in that progress in the crop area, he said, and he thanked the company for expanding its operations in South Dakota.
Pioneer celebrated the completion of its 12,000-square-foot building expansion and the introduction of its soybean breeding program at Volga with Daugaard, local producers, town residents and Pioneer employees joining in the June 13 event. The facility, which opened with corn product development in 2008, has been growing steadily since that time as it develops products locally for South Dakota and western Minnesota producers.
“Our new program focuses on elite soybean varieties and early maturity groups with superior yield potential and strong defenses against diseases,” said Dirk Charlson, a research scientist leading the soybean breeding project at Volga.
Center employees, with almost half made up of graduates from nearby South Dakota State University, work on plots in South Dakota stretching from the North Dakota border to the Nebraska border, a range that allows for proper testing of products to ensure they have the right product on the right acre. A typical research plot ranges from 75 to 100 square feet.
Research work then continues at the newly expanded center. The new addition will be used mostly for the soybean research.
“This expansion creates more jobs, which we really appreciate,” said Daugaard, “but even more importantly it creates more food for feeding the world and better profits for farmers in the region.”
He said plant science research in corn and soybeans has pushed production to new heights.
Daugaard said that when he recently saw a cornfield in a dry-land area near Wall, S.D., he wondered aloud about who would have thought it would be possible ever to grow corn there.
The impact of crops is growing too in the percentage of ag income across the state, he said. In 2007, corn was 18 percent of the total ag income in the state with soybeans at 15 percent for a total of 33 percent of the ag economy. In 2010, he said corn was 25 percent and soybeans 19.6 percent for a total of 45 percent of the ag income.
Although increased prices and more acres have had an effect on that figure, he said ag research also has played a major role in increasing productivity.
Jeff Austin, a Pioneer vice president who looks at long-term product strategy for the company, said the Dupont business spent $1.7 billion on research and development in 2011. About $1 billion – or 62 percent – was spent on innovations to increase productivity to meet the growing demand for food.
“This investment is part of our commitment to apply science locally,” he said.
That’s why, Austin said, Pioneer is investing in such facilities as the Volga center.
After starting with the corn hybrid research and testing in 2008, the Volga center added an IMPACT (Intensively Managed Product Advancement, Characterization and Training) program plot in 2010.
The IMPACT program refines how local plot trials are conducted. Plot evaluations take place on growers’ farms, giving them an opportunity to see how the newest products and technologies are performing. They walk the plots with the assigned Pioneer teams and learn about the products.
The plots benefit from intensive management and evaluation throughout the growing season and provide local performance results on dozens of corn hybrids and soybean varieties identified as top candidates for commercialization.
Data from the plots help Pioneer decision-makers understand which products offer the best performance in a given environment.
With its specialized equipment, an IMPACT team can plant 100 to 150 hybrids in an hour or two, something a grower can’t accomplish with traditional equipment.
Daugaard told the crowd at the grand opening that this made sense to test varieties of products in one area that also gets the same amount of rainfall.
The governor said the IMPACT name speaks the truth about “high-quality ag research and the impact it has on billions of people as we try to feed the world, which is a true concern.”
Charlson told the crowd that he is proud of the “significant contributions” that the company makes to the community and state. He said they employ an extra 100 college, Volga high school and other community residents on summer crews during pollinating, planting and harvesting activities.
Also, he said, SDSU students can benefit educationally through summer and six-month internships at the center.
The company does not provide specific numbers of total employees at research centers.
However, the expansion will result in five to six new research associate positions in Volga. In total, Pioneer has more than 4,000 research employees globally.
Pioneer has more than 110 research locations in 25 countries on six continents. Of those, about 15 locations in the U.S., including the new Volga operation, are working on soybean research.
Volga employees gave tours of the new expansion and a look at equipment used in planting and harvesting at the open house.
Officials said the testing and amount of time it takes to get a variety or hybrid on the market from when research starts varies by trait. Typically, a native trait can take five years to 10 years from inception to reach market, while a biotech trait can take anywhere from 12 years to 20 years.
Each Pioneer soybean research center has its own breeding nursery plot. The parental varieties grown in these nurseries have been evaluated and catalogued to provide breeders with an inventory of characteristics they use to match the best parents to their geographies, the company says.
The performance data is shared with all Pioneer research centers through a database for use in similar areas globally.
New lines of soybeans are then selected by picking individual plants that the breeder believes may possess all the desirable traits needed in a new variety.
The traits include disease resistance, pest resistance, standability, shattering resistance, good seed quality, maturity, herbicide tolerance, oil and meal quality, emergence speed and top yields. Pioneer breeders use visual observation, analytical techniques and genetic screening to ensure that the selected variety has those key traits, the company says.
The regional soybean research centers focus on improving genetic resistance to diseases that can cause problems. In the Midwest, that includes several fungal diseases including sudden death syndrome, brown stem rot, soybean cyst nematode and Phytophthora root rot.