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Pioneering plant breeder aiming to double world corn production

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Harry Stine, the billionaire owner of Stine Seed and developer of some of the most widely-used soybean genetics, is on a quest to double the world’s production of corn through genetics and high density plantings. A Forbes magazine article details how the 72-year-old Iowan became a powerhouse in the seed business.

“…Some of the most impressive and fundamentally important advances on Earth are occurring today in agriculture…” — Forbes magazine, April 14, 2014

 

Regardless of the brand name on the soybean seed you’ll be planting this year, chances are the genetics trace to one man: Harry Stine.

The billionaire founder and owner of Stine Seed, the largest privately-owned seed company in the world and owner of 15,000 acres of Iowa farm land, has for more than three decades been perfecting what a Forbes magazine article terms “the best-performing soybean seeds in the business.”

Stine, writes Forbes staffer Alex Morrell, “has been perfecting the genetic makeup of soybean seeds” through plant breeding, “an innovative, data-savvy strategy, married with shrewd leadership and a classic Midwestern work ethic, that has made Stine’s operation best in class.”

The 72-year old Stine, who grew up poor with a learning disability, holds over 900 patents. He is quoted: “Our germplasm — our genetic base here — is the best in the world.” Today, the article notes, 60 percent of all soybean acreage in the U.S. is planted with genetics developed by his companies.

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Forbes estimates Stine’s companies are worth nearly $3 billion. His “industry-leading soybean genetics” became the nexus of “one of the most lucrative deals in agricultural history,” an agreement in 1997 to use Stine genetics with Monsanto’s Roundup Ready technology — now used in 96 percent of U.S. soybean acreage.

Today, the article notes, Stine is on a quest to double the world’s production of corn through genetics and high density plantings.

In the early 1930s, U.S. corn yields were about 27 bushels from about 7,000 plants per acre. Today’s GMO varieties average 150 bushels or so from 35,000 plants per acre.

“Stine noticed corn plants hadn’t changed much in generations,” the Forbes article says, and most of the plant’s biomass uses valuable resources that don’t necessarily improve yield.”

So, he’s breeding shorter corn with smaller tassels and more upright leaves to attract more sunlight — “a leaner, more efficient plant — to thrive at higher planting densities, on 8-inch to 12-inch rows and plant populations of 80,000. Yields in experimental fields have been as much as 30 percent higher.

There are drawbacks, the article notes: more seeds, more fertilizer, new planting/harvesting machinery — all entailing “a sizable capital risk” to farmers to switch to a system that some experts say will do little to increase yields.

Monsanto is also researching the concept, the article says, and the company’s CEO, Robert Fraley, says corn seed still needs more innovation, but, “We absolutely think it’s possible to double yields.”

Read the entire Forbes article here: http://onforb.es/Qwh8xa

 

 

 

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