Accelerating Corn Trait Innovation

Accelerating Corn Trait Innovation

To succeed in challenging economic times, farmers need elite corn hybrids with the latest trait packages. A new $30 million investment at the Syngenta research and development (R&D) and seed production site in Nampa, Idaho, is helping growers meet that critical need. “The Trait Conversion Accelerator is a highly automated corn breeding facility that will help us deliver the corn seed products farmers need to be successful,” says David Hollinrake , regional director for Syngenta in North America. “It will also give growers much-needed choice in traits and hybrids.” The Nampa facility features state-of-the-art greenhouses and laboratories and will accommodate a majority of the Syngenta North American corn trait conversion work, which was previously done in open field or semicontrolled environments. It will provide a reliable, controlled growing environment for incorporating desired genes from Syngenta trait donor sources into elite cultivars or breeding lines — a process known as marker-assisted backcrossing. As a result, Syngenta will be able to introduce market-leading traits into the company’s most advanced corn germplasm faster and more efficiently. Iowa farmer Kevin Ross, president of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), was in Nampa for the 2019 Trait Conversion Accelerator ribbon-cutting. “Investments in seeds R&D are important to corn growers and to my farming operation,” Ross says. “Corn traits help me farm more sustainably and increase my return-on-investment potential. Faster access to corn traits coupled with elite genetics matters. That’s why facilities like Nampa are important.” Ross adds that advances in ag technology have not only assisted today’s producers in meeting increased demand for a safe and abundant grain supply, they have also benefited rural economies and the environment. “They will help us feed a growing, global population and extend this same opportunity to the next generation,” he says. Idaho State Department of Agriculture Director Celia Gould was also on hand for the introduction of the Trait Conversion Accelerator. She says that although U.S. agriculture is currently struggling, the economic challenges facing the industry are cyclical in nature. “We go through these cycles, and the reason that we come out on top is because we can do things more effectively than a lot of nations can,” Gould says. “This facility is one of the pieces giving us that leading edge — that cutting edge that helps us do things better.” Increasingly, Syngenta scientists are working closely with growers — for everything from precommercial testing and purpose-driven product development to improving operational efficiencies. According to Trevor Hohls, Ph.D., Syngenta global head of seeds development, this approach is how Syngenta is getting closer to the markets and the customers it serves. In turn, this partnership approach results in growers having access to the products they need — and want. “For us, it’s all about driving on-farm, collaborative innovation,” Hohls says. “We like to think that we’re innovating our farmer customers, versus innovating at them.” The Nampa facility is helping to make this concept a reality, Hohls notes. “By using a site like Nampa, we can take product concepts that we’ve worked on with our customers — in terms of co-creation on-farm — and we can deliver traits that we develop in that process way more effectively,” he says. “The Trait Conversion Accelerator is critical for us because it brings the germplasm development pipeline together with our trait development pipeline. And so, when we think about the range of value-added traits that we can put into our lines or our hybrids, we can certainly accelerate.” Hohls adds that Syngenta chose the Nampa site for this investment in trait conversion because it offers an excellent combination of climatic factors (e.g., solar radiation and humidity), as well as access to a highly skilled workforce. According to Joe Bevilacqua, Trait Conversion Accelerator operations lead for Syngenta, this new facility is the culmination of years of preparation and planning and a prime example of the Syngenta commitment to accelerating innovation. “The core of this facility is all about acceleration,” Bevilacqua says. “Specifically, we are able to deliver traited products quicker and more reliably to the marketplace for hybrid seed production .” Customers of the NK ® and Golden Harvest ® corn seed brands will benefit from faster access to more hybrids with the latest Agrisure ® trait technologies. “Having a controlled environment will allow us to put the right nutrients, the right temperatures and the right amount of light into the protocol, so we can deliver our top traits in our top genetics to our customers,” Bevilacqua adds. At Nampa, Syngenta is building on a presence that was established 30 years ago, when it began as an R&D station with a biotech lab. The site includes 90 acres of farmland, considered to be some of the best ground in Idaho’s Treasure Valley, widely known for great seed production. The Nampa site is also home to the Syngenta Center of Excellence for large-seeded vegetables and the global large seed distribution center for R&D vegetables, including sweet corn, snap peas and garden beans. Syngenta is in the midst of realizing the benefits of a five-year, $400 million incremental investment in its North American seeds business. This has enabled the company to significantly increase its breeding and product testing capacity and pursue infrastructure projects, like the one in Nampa. “Our message to farmers is simple: We’re here for you,” Hollinrake says. “Syngenta is committed to accelerating innovation. This means developing products that go beyond current limits and providing farmers with unique and meaningful choice.”