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Monsanto opens new corn breeding facility

FLORA — Monsanto Company has an expressed goal of doubling agriculture yields over the next 20 years, and officials say the company’s new corn-breeding facility in Central Mississippi will play an important role in meeting that objective.

More than 100 people gathered at the new Monsanto facility in the Flora Industrial Park Jan. 11 for the official grand opening of the $2.4-million, 26,000-square-foot breeding station.

The company said the facility is expected to lead in its efforts to develop higher-yielding corn hybrids. In addition, it is also looking to improve agronomics by offering products resistant to disease, heat and other environmental stresses.

Monsanto’s U.S. and Canada corn breeding director Mark Messmer told the Mississippi Business Journal that the Flora Corn Breeding Station, along with Monsanto’s other Southern corn-breeding facility in Leesburg, Ga., would be one of Monanto’s most important research facilities, receiving germplasm from around the world for hybrid research and development. He said he expects the Flora and Leesburg stations to work cooperatively.

In total, St. Louis, Mo.-based Monsanto operates a global network of 50-plus corn-breeding stations.

When asked why Flora, Messmer said the land in the area is very uniform, a plus for precise testing. He added that the area’s livability was also a factor.

The dramatic increase in corn acreage in Mississippi, driven by the demand for ethanol and the decrease in cotton planting, also played a role.

Dr. Ted Crosbie, Monsanto global breeding lead, said, “There’s been growth in corn acres in the Delta region, and with that there is a need for improved corn products tailored to this area of the country. This new station allows Monsanto to develop and grow crops on the same soil as our customers and offer farmers even more seed choices than before.”

Mississippi Agriculture Commissioner Lester Spell said the Flora station is important not just to the community and Mississippi, but also the entire world. He cited statistics that show the world is losing 2.5 acres of farmland every six seconds while a baby is born every three seconds.

“Tonight’s news will have stories of financial problems, social issues, military conflicts, economic problems,” Spell said. “But the overarching issue is how are we going to feed and clothe all these people with less farmland in the future. People have to eat.”

The Flora facility will employ nine full-time workers, but will add approximately 50-60 seasonal workers during the peak summer months. Messmer said Monsanto would begin recruiting farmers to raise test plots, and expects total test plot acreage to run in the 200- to 250-acre range.

According to Sammy Soignier, testing and operations manager for the Flora facility, Mississippi is the only state in the nation where Monsanto has sited cotton, soybean and corn research stations.

The Flora corn breeding station represents another significant investment in Mississippi by Monsanto. In 2006, Monsanto acquired Delta and Pine Land Company in Scott in the Mississippi Delta for $1.5 billion in cash. The mega-company now has facilities at Scott, Leland and Winterville in the Delta dedicated to cotton and soybean research and development.

“Our existing facilities in Scott, Leland and Winterville help serve farmers’ need for innovative, higher-yielding products in soy and cotton,” Crosbie said. “With the new site in Flora, we plan to do the same in corn.”


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