Kauai and Corn (LAND OF LIQUID Blog)

The Hawaiian islands are a wonderful place to visit because of the nice weather and year-round pleasantness.  Those are also wonderful conditions for growing corn.  Seed corn companies have grown test and parent seed on Kauai for decades.  There have been changes over the years and just a few are on Kauai now.  Plus there is always pressure from anti-GMO protesters.  But I didn’t really read anything in the letters to the editor while I was there, unlike previous years.  But this post isn’t about that.  It is about a visit to Kauai’s newest seed company grower: Beck’s Hybrids.  They are the largest family-owned seed company in the US and are based in Indiana.  In late 2016 they acquired a facility owned by BASF seed research in Kekaha on the West side.  Part of the deal was that Beck’s retain the former BASF staff, which they did.  Nice move.

Retail Partner Chad from South Dakota knows someone from Beck’s there who knows somebody at Beck’s Kauai who arranged a visit for Chad, myself and Regional Sales Manager Brian.  We were hosted by station manager Steve who was nice to take the time to show us around.  Here we are near the water canal from a local small reservoir that provides irrigation to all of the corn in the area.  This part of the island is dry and irrigation is a must.

These channels are really old and still work fine.  After all, Kauai has one of the wettest spots on Earth in Mt. Waialeale which averages 452″ of rain a year.  And it all flows downhill.

Here is one of the seed plot planters, where people sit up in those seats and drop seeds from packets into the planter unit that rotates dropping one seed at a time into the plot.

The seed is either inbred production or an experimental hybrid cross.  In either case, as the ear develops, a bag is placed over the ear before it silks.  Then when it is time, specific pollen is applied by a worker to the ear silk and then the bag is put back on until mature enough to pick.  Steve explains the operation to Chad here in a test plot. See all the bags over the ears?

There were workers in there  picking the ears from each plot and putting them in a bag.  (See the drip line for irrigation?) From here they will be sent back to Indiana for evaluation  and then maybe grown there for something.  It is all pretty secret, and  a complicated process.    But the payoff could be big.  Just the sort of breakthrough a family-owned agricultural company would love to have.  It is interesting that similar plots from other seed companies are within view of each other.  They must adhere to some sort of honor code.

Well of course we talked about fertility.  Growing corn here is hard, especially supplying and keeping nutrients in a plant-usable form on this old volcanic soil.  So we talked about sharing soil tests and see if there are any beneficial options available from this family-owned agricultural company.