China: Tropical corn hybrids in demand as a result of climate change
May. 4, 2018
Author: Advanta ASEAN & NE Asia Team; Seraj Ahmad, Advanta Philippines & North-East Asia Business Growth Lead, International Business
The inevitable climate change which is manifested in more frequent events such as droughts, floods, extreme temperatures and sudden weather changes emphasizes the need for more resilient and adaptable genetics. According to the UN one of the most impactful changes in climate is increasing surface temperature. Increasing temperatures are having an enormous impact on farming by requiring genetics that are more resilient to high temperatures.
Tropical corn market in China
Currently the tropical corn seed market in China is estimated at US$345.6m, but it is increasing due to changing climate conditions. The higher temperatures have been noticed in the past few years in North and Central China and need for tropical corn genetics rather than what traditionally used to be grown temperate corn.
Tropical corn is mostly cultivated in the South and Southwestern parts of China, including Guangxi, Yunnan, Guizhou, and some southern parts of Sichuan. In these regions, especially in Guangxi and Yunnan, tropical corn commercial hybrids are both domestic and from overseas with the latter dominating the local market since 2015, such as CP619 and CP818 of the CP Group; and DK007 and DK008 of Monsanto.
However, there are not many options in the market. The lack of choice and fewer hybrids available creates an opportunity to introduce new genetics and customize them to the regional farmers’ needs.
Tropical vs temperate corn
The key point for the performance of the tropical and temperate corn is the length of day. The temperate hybrids will flower too soon in tropical climate due to a short-day length and may not survive the diseases in tropical conditions and tropical hybrids will flower too late in temperate environments due to a longer day.
Another point is the resistance to heat. The temperate corn does well in lower temperatures and tropical corn is for the summer and a relatively hot climate. If farmers plant seeds of temperate corn in hotter climates they will not have the expected performance. Farmers should make careful choice of hybrids based on the climate to get the desired yield and profit.
Becoming an expert in tropical corn
Pachok Pongpanich, ASEAN & NE Asia Head stated, “It became our target to identify superior hybrids and to market them as fast as possible throughout Asia, especially in countries where Corn is major field crop such as Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. We started a program in Thailand under our brand Pacific Seeds Thai. When we started the corn hybrid market for tropical corn was about 30,000 MT and the value about USD $150m. Competition was high from all the multinational and major local companies that have been present and active in the market since 1980. At that time we held around 5% to 8 % market share. We could not expand our market share to grow through average quality hybrids”. The use of biotechnological capabilities and the most advanced technologies in traditional breeding was a way forward. We have been applying Dihaploid technology since 1999 to speed up the inbred lines development process. The advantage of Dihaploid application of our tropical corn program is the turn out rate of new lines from elite germplasm faster and better than competitors in term of transferring elite characters to new derived lines in shorter times. The set of superior hybrids namely Pac999 Super, Pac339 and Pac313 were identified as pre-commercial hybrids already released in 2009.
“Once hybrids were tested and ready to be commercialized, the first step we took was to ensure that the sales team is involved in the trial program. This is a product learning process for our sales team. TD and sales teams worked together with the farmers to monitor the trials. Over 80 trials were arranged and seeds were given away to 1,500 farmers (2 acres each) to be planted in major corn territories. Understanding the hybrid performance in all breeding conditions was a must. “It encouraged to learn about the product in the field, and not from the TD trial documents,” added Mr. Pongpanich.
The next step in the success of becoming a tropical corn expert was to educate the farmers. Good cultivation practices and placement of products in the right territory have proved to minimize the disease problems such as ear rot and other typical corn diseases. Farmers have received precise instructions how to achieve the best result from the product. Superior quality hybrid and correct cultivation technology have helped farmers to maximize the yield and their incomes. In other words, knowing how hybrids work in different environments is essential to manage the product placement and enhance product performance to meet farmers’ expectations.
This is how Advanta Seeds started the Center of Excellence and became the global leader for the sub-tropical and tropical corn hybrids. The Excellence Center is focused on breeding programs for tropical field corn, baby corn, sweet corn and waxy corn, of which the superior germplasm has been successfully introduced across the tropical geographies all over the globe from Asia to South America.
Advanta introduced first products in the Chinese Market
Advanta Seeds has already managed to introduce three field corn hybrids for commercial production in Southwestern China, namely Pac98, Pac99, and Pac891, introduced by our brand Pacific Seeds Thai.
Pac98 is Advanta’s first hybrid of field corn commercialized in China. Pac98 is characteristic of early-maturing and stably high-yielding. Coupled with good husk cover, easy hand-harvesting, and acceptable levels of biotic and abiotic stress resistance or tolerances, Pac98 was one of the top-performing tropical corn hybrids in the local market around 2010. Pac99 and Pac891 are two recently released products being out-licensed to the same local partner for commercial production. With gradually improved experiences and skills required for local seed production of these introduced new releases which are directly handled and managed by the local partner, both Advanta and its partners are to envisage a steady and robust growth of the sales volumes in the years to come.
The initial success of commercialization of Advanta’s field corn in southwest China has demonstrated the merits and advantages of our tropical type’s products, such as resistance to Polysora rust, one of the major fungal diseases common in hot and humid lowland tropical conditions. Other desirable characters include lodging resistance, good seed set and tip filling, and tolerance to moderate drought. An aggressive strategy to be employed in marketing these new releases by the local partner will undoubtedly enhance the magnitude of production commercialization, to benefit both parties concerned.
The real challenge to Advanta’s progressive seeds business growth in the market lies with the collaborating Chinese partners in the capacity and effectiveness of local seed production of promising hybrids, which were introduced from Pacific Seeds (Thai) Ltd. and have been identified under local conditions for the local market segments.
Additionally, Advanta has its sweet corn products being commercialized in the market of southern China for some time, with a good track record of wide acceptance by clients.
Advanta, just like other MNCs of its kind with seed businesses involved or operating in China, is playing a role of contributing to the Chinese seed industry, by complementing the China domestic seeds market. As mentioned previously, the total seeds market is currently valued at US$10.7b, however the combined turnover from a total of 24 MNCs with seed business in China is cited as only US$0.38b, a sheer 3.56% of the total (official data, as of May 2017). In this sense, when partnered with a local Chinese seed company as a distributor or client, Advanta would have the necessary product-technology scope for tangible collaboration and cooperation towards mutual benefits and developments in the sector of China seeds business, under the current politic-business conditions.
This article was translated into Chinese and included in our latest seed magazine (Chinese) 《世界种业》