Isolated fields, irrigation needed to produce corn seed
By MITCH LIES
HERMISTON, Ore. -- When Brian Bormann opened Pioneer Hi-Bred's Hermiston operation last year, he had one fieldman and a long to-do list that included hiring several more crop consultants.
Bormann said his fieldman was a heck of a worker, "but he was calling me saying, 'I need help.'"
Today Bormann, manager of Hermiston's parent seed plant, oversees a crew of seven fieldmen working with 2,700 acres of corn.
And things, he said, haven't slowed one bit.
"Things happen so fast, the year flies by and you're playing catch-up all the time," he said.
Pioneer, one of the world's largest producers of hybrid seeds, is hosting its official grand opening of the Hermiston plant Sept. 10.
The plant, which broke ground in February 2009, has one year of seed production under its belt and a second year well under way.
Pioneer chose to locate in Hermiston, Bormann said, for several reasons.
"It's a known quantity," he said of the area. "We have a facility in Connell, Wash., so we know what the Columbia Basin is like.
"And the fact that there is not a lot of corn here was attractive," he said.
Isolating seed corn from other corn is critical in seed production, Bormann said. Isolation distance is hard to find in some parts of the country, he said.
"You go to a grower in the Midwest and say, 'I need a quarter-mile of isolation,' and they laugh at you," he said.
"There is a lot of opportunity for isolation here: That was one of the biggest drivers (behind choosing Hermiston). And then there is the climate and the (availability of) irrigation," he said.
Pioneer's Hermiston plant contracted for 550 acres last year. Next year, the plant is looking at producing seed on 3,500 to 4,500 acres.
The plant dries harvested seed and delivers it in bulk via truck or train to Pioneer plants in the Midwest, where it is cleaned, conditioned and bagged.
The Hermiston plant produces parent seed -- seed that is crossed with other parent seed to produce hybrid seeds -- and some hybrid seed.
The plant contracts for mostly small acreages, with contracts ranging from 1 to 100 acres.
Bormann said the plant is willing to work with just about any grower who can produce quality seed.
"We work with the guy who farms 30,000 to 50,000 acres to the guy who more or less is willing to plant corn in his backyard," he said.
"If they prove themselves to us and they are willing to work with us, we're open to working with them," he said.
Eventually, Bormann said, Pioneer officials estimate the plant could contract for as many as 8,000 acres of corn seed from local growers.