DuPont Pioneer opens $2.5 million expansion
MANKATO, Minn. — DuPont Pioneer celebrated the opening of its new $2.5 million corn research center last week.
Construction began last September and was done in phases, said Dean Christensen during an Aug. 20 event held to showcase the expansion. He is a research fellow at DuPont Pioneer's Mankato Research Station.
The project doubled the size of the seed processing area and tripled the size of the seed vault. The office area was remodeled and a 180-by-90 machine shed and shop was built. The shop portion is heated, giving staff a warm place to work on machinery in winter.
Staff gave tours of the remodeled areas. In the expanded seed processing area, senior research associates Dennis Gartner and Mike Soost demonstrated how corn seed is counted into bar-coded packages that are smaller than the packages garden seeds come in. Work in this area typically runs from February through April, so the seed is ready to be planted when farmers are planting.
Typically, six machines are running and another four to six stations are set up for people to hand count seeds into packets. At the computer automated stations, 80 seeds go into a packet. At the hand counting stations, up to 25 seeds are counted into each packet.
Christensen said a quarter million packets are prepared at the Mankato location. In North America, the company prepares six million seed packets each year. These seeds are packaged for research plots.
The seed processing area is adjacent to the seed vault, which is filled with shelves and boxes. Think of the parts bins behind the counter of your favorite implement dealer, but in a larger and cooler space.
Those seeds hold the key to future discoveries by researchers. DuPont Pioneer investigates one million new potential products on an annual basis, said Geoff Graham, vice president of maize research for the Americas. From that research comes 50 new commercial products a year, he said.
Christensen said it takes eight years to move from a potential parent being identified to a bag of seed that a farmer can purchase. Researchers at the Mankato station are involved through the length of the process, he said.
The expansion of the Mankato station undoubtedly will help meet the increasing demand for food, said Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson. Research is the only hope to feed the 9 billion people expected on the planet by 2050, he said.
As demand for food continues to climb with increasing world population, the work of scientists to increase yield, produce more usable food and decrease waste is critical, said Patrick Yockey, business director for the northern business unit of DuPont Pioneer.
It's estimated that a billion people around the globe go to bed hungry each night, said Steve Reno, vice president and regional business director for DuPont Pioneer's United States operations.
DuPont Pioneer spent $2.1 billion on research in 2012 with about two-thirds of that investment toward feeding the world. The expansion of the Mankato Research Station is a huge part of that, he said.
The company will be able to leverage the work done in Mankato not only in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa, but also in Europe.
The expansion shows a commitment to research over the long haul, Frederickson said.
When the Mankato research site opened, Minnesota's average corn yields were 56 bushels per acre. Last year, the state's average yield was 160.
"How do we triple yields again?" Graham asked.
"This expansion will allow us to continue innovating," Christensen said.
The research site has 24 full time employees and lots of seasonal workers, Christensen said. Upwards of 150 young people work at the site in the summer. For many, it's their first job.
Pioneer's presence in Mankato dates to 1958 when a research station was established, he said. Research moved to the current site in 1966.
The station has grown in people, acreage and square footage through the years, Christensen said. The station was last expanded in 1998.