Hybrid Seed Corn Amazes Farmers

Iraqi farmers in Al Anbar Province successfully produced, harvested and sold hybrid seed corn to the Iraqi government late last year. This was the first time since the late 1970s to early 1980s that hybrid corn was produced and sold in Al Anbar Province.

This was achieved with the guidance and advice of USDA Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) agriculture advisor Eric Dolbeare and an Iraqi linguist on the Fallujah embedded (e)-PRT and assistance from the U.S. Marine Corps Battalion 1/7.

While the government paid the same price for the hybrid corn as it does for corn produced from locally grown seed (about $303 per ton), the hybrid corn sold at a premium price on the local market due to its high quality. According to one farmer who sold the hybrid corn, workers at the government-run grain facility were so amazed at the corn's quality and uniformity that they dug into the truckload to ensure that poor-quality corn was not hiding below the good corn. To their surprise, the corn was consistently good.

In 2008, USDA PRT agriculture advisor Eric Dolbeare began examining grain production in Fallujah. He found that, although corn is the third most important grain crop in the area, corn produced from locally grown seed is frequently harvested as forage for cattle due to very low yields resulting from poor genetics. Without access to modern hybrid seed technology, farmers were unable to experience the gains in production seen by other farmers using this technology around the world.

In consultation with district agriculture officials, Mr. Dolbeare developed a plan for training Iraqi private sector agriculture professionals to serve as distributors of the trial hybrid seed. After obtaining funding from the U.S. Marine Corps to purchase 13,200 pounds of the hybrid seed, the e-PRT staff worked with a Middle Eastern distributor for a U.S. company that provides worldwide technical services to train the agriculture professionals, who then distributed the seed to 400 farmers.

When the hybrid corn was harvested last autumn, it yielded 150 bushels per acre-five times the yield of locally grown seed corn. An Iraqi farmer nicknamed "Captain Corn" said, "I have been growing corn for 15 years and never saw corn like this in my life." His neighbors call him "Captain Corn" because he formerly served as a captain on the Iraqi police force, but now he is producing excellent corn using the hybrid seed. Coincidently, he is also a university educated agronomist.

In a study conducted in Iraq, hybrid seed produced 500 percent more yield than traditional seed corn. Applying additional fertilizer to the hybrid corn fields increased production to 600 percent of corn produced from locally grown seed.

In a private business transaction facilitated by the e-PRT staff late last year, the Middle Eastern distributor is expected to sell U.S.-based Monsanto Corporation's DeKalb-brand hybrid seed corn this summer to distributors in the Fallujah area. In addition, the Middle Eastern distributor plans to showcase the hybrid seed at demonstration plots throughout Al Anbar Province and begin advertising the hybrid seed to local farmers to facilitate a Province-wide launch of the product.

( American Seed Trade Association )

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