(p. A1) LA CRETE, Alberta–The farm belt is marching northward.
Upper Alberta is bitter cold much of the year, and remote. Not much grows other than the spruce and poplar that spread out a hundred miles around Highway 88 north toward La Crete. Signs warn drivers to watch for moose and make sure their gas tanks are filled. Farms have produced mostly wheat, canola and barley. Summers were so short farmer Dicky Driedger used to tease his wife about wasting garden space growing corn.
Today, Mr. Driedger is the one growing corn. So are many other northern-Alberta farmers who are plowing up forests to create fields, which lets them grow still more of it. The new prospect of warmer-weather crops is helping lift farmland prices, with an acre near La Crete selling for nearly five times what it fetched 10 years ago.
One reason is the warming planet and longer growing seasons. Temperatures around La Crete are 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer on average annually than in 1950, Canadian federal climate records show, and the growing season is nearly two weeks longer.
“A few degrees doesn’t sound like much,” said Mr. Driedger, 56, who has farmed for three decades in the area roughly as far north as Ju-(p. A6)neau, Alaska. “Maybe it doesn’t make such a big difference on wheat or canola, but on corn, it sure does.”
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Agricultural giants such as Bayer AG , Cargill Inc., DowDuPont Inc. and Bunge Ltd. are pushing to develop hardier crops, plan new logistics networks and offer new technologies designed to help farmers adapt. DowDuPont, maker of Pioneer brand seeds, said its scientists are developing crops that mature faster and in drier conditions for farmers in regions growing hotter. It is marketing weather services to help farmers better anticipate storms and weather-driven crop disease.
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“I look for places that don’t yet grow soybeans, that will eventually grow soybeans,” said Joelle Faulkner, chief executive of Area One Farms, a Toronto investment firm that buys land in partnership with farmers.
On Area One land where farmers have planted soybeans, farmers’ profitability has grown 30% over three to five years, boosting the land’s value by roughly the same amount, she said. The spread of warmer-weather crops, she said, represents “the less negative effect of climate.”
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Seed and pesticide giant Bayer, which bought U.S. seed purveyor Monsanto this year, is breeding corn plants to be faster-maturing to produce crops in cooler climates. Those efforts help farmers in borderline areas take advantage of climatic shifts.
A decade ago, Monsanto’s fastest-growing corn needed about 80 days to mature for harvesting, said Dan Wright, who oversees Bayer’s Canadian corn and soybean research from Guelph, Ontario. Next year, he aims to begin selling corn that will mature in 70 days, targeting farmers in places like Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Red Deer, Alberta. For corn and soybeans, the company’s two biggest crops by sales, he said, such areas represent the “edge opportunity.”
For the full story, see:
Jacob Bunge. “Warming Climate Pushes Corn North.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Nov. 25, 2018): A1 & A6.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 26, 2018, and has the title “A Warming Climate Brings New Crops to Frigid Zones.”)