OLIVIA, Minn. — Here’s an update on 3rd Millenium Genetics, the Olivia, Minn. seed firm with a 13-year research history in Puerto Rico. A major hurricane devastated this island country about a year ago. Two words sum up what happens when a 400-mile wide hurricane with 153 mile-per-hour winds hits a small country: Incredible Damage.
Last October, The Land interviewed Ed Baumgartner, the 57-year old Olivia native who created 3MG. At that time he reported, “We lost about 100 acres of vegetables and all our research projects got totally wiped out. So it’s starting over with much of our total work. Puerto Rico will rise again. And thanks to our crew, so will we.”
Now leap forward to June 25, 2018. I’m sitting in Ed’s Olivia office. He had just returned from a trip to Kazakhstan (northern Europe bordering on Russia) where his firm is successfully introducing some hybrid corns with the genetic stamina to endure the harsh, dry soils common over much of this huge country.
Why Kazakhstan? Because 3MG has done some corn trials in this country for Bill and Dan Price, two enterprising North Dakota cattle men who have jump-started the beef industry in Kazakhstan. These brothers air-lifted 12,000 head of registered Angus cows from their North Dakota operation to Kazakhstan to establish a beef industry. This effort is also generating a significant new interest in growing corn in Kazakhstan.
“We already knew of Ed Baumgartner’s work to provide corn hybrids that better fit the dry, colder areas of western North Dakota,” said Dan Price. “We use lots of Ed’s pedigrees in our corn program. So we wondered if his firm might have a genetic package that might fit similar conditions in Kazakhstan.”
Baumgartner seems to thrive on genetic challenges for corn. He sees huge opportunities for the right genetic lineup in Kazakhstan. And with a rapidly developing cattle industry, he’s confident of a growing corn market also. But it will take some learning time.
Baumgartner explained, “This was a Communist governed society for many years and land is still owned by the government. Cattle guys, including the Price brothers, are renting land on a 49-year lease! But corn production is ramping up. This summer I had the unique satisfaction of standing in a 2,000-acre field of corn in Kazakhstan and this huge field was entirely our corn!”
Related Baumgartner, “We also visited a Price-managed cattle farm in Kazakhstan with 10,000 head of beef cattle on feed and a 7,000-cow ‘mama’ herd providing seed stock for thousands more cattle in future years.
“We’re developing corn lines to fit the specific demands for growing corn over there. It looks like early hybrids, under 80 days maturity is the only logical route. And drought tolerance is vital.
“But a challenge is to get Kazakhstan farmers beyond the Soviet mentality on how you do agronomy. In the past three years I’ve worked with them, they’ve bought three different planters. This year they finally bought a John Deere no-till planter. They’re beginning to understand that if you don’t have generous soil moisture, you shouldn’t be over-working the soil. Just this recognition of minimum tillage is huge — I think — to their future in corn … and other row crops, too.”
Baumgartner noted Kazakhstan farmers are beginning to understand the importance of early planting rather than waiting until the middle of May. “They don’t yet relate to growing degree days and how that single factor pretty much determines the effective length of a growing season. So I’ve simply advised them that April 25 is time to start planting corn. I tell them, ‘You’ve got good seed with good seed treatment. So get your seeds into the soil and let the genetics go to work.’”
And is he making progress? In the Kazakhstan area where 3MG is working, corn is still a virtual non-entity. That 2,000 acre field of 3MG corn certainly won’t win any beauty contests he admits, but it’s a big learning factory for all farmers in the area.
Back in America, how are 3MG’s 17 research fields in North and South Dakota and Minnesota looking for this testy 2018 season. Baumgartner confided, as of Sept. 5, “This was the most challenging planting season we have ever experienced. We had a month-long planting season with lots of road time just hauling our planting equipment from one location to the next location that was finally ready to plant. We have two locations we likely won’t even harvest because they were under duress from too much moisture. But our 15 plots will provide lots of new data — some average data and a few pedigrees that likely will go the ‘discard’ route.”
Besides their own breeding program, 3MG is doing grow outs for 21 other seed companies. However, all 3MG breeding work is non-GMO. “We let the environment be a major factor in developing new lines. In essence, the good survive; the not-so-good don’t. And that will be the driving factors behind our work in Kazakhstan too.”
Kazakhstan is the ninth-largest country in the world. It is an oil-rich country with other resources — including productive soils. Organic matter runs about 7 percent and rainfall averages about 16 inches per year. They have lots of ground water, so irrigation potential looks good.
“Corn production in Kazakhstan is reminiscent to corn production in North Dakota 40 years ago. But because of our natural selection process of working with the environment, we see great potential for our corns in Kazakhstan. However, the Kazakhstan farmers are not ready for GMO trait enriched hybrids,” said Baumgartner.
“And yes, despite the horrible hurricane on September 20, 2017 which virtually shut down the entire country for several weeks (an estimated 2,780 killed), Puerto Rico has lots of determined people. Our research program got derailed big-time. But this fall we’re virtually back to full capacity on our 600 acres. Puerto Rico is a beautiful country with lots of good people. And it’s working well for us too,” summed up Baumgartner.
In view of today’s economic squeeze on U.S. agriculture, Baumgartner sees a growing trend to more conventional corn. “Today’s market prices are getting a lot of farmers to take a second look at non-GMO corns. Once they get into growing some non-GMOs and see production as good as or better than trait corn, then I think we will see major switching into conventional corn hybrids.”