High-quality seed is fundamental to farmers’ ability to plant, grow and harvest successful crops. Production facilities such as this one operated by Beck’s Hybrids near Atlanta, Ind., play a pivotal role in the overall process.
Companies manage risk and needs on the production end to guarantee farmers have seed at planting
Months of planning, complex logistics and many miles go into a bag of seed before it reaches your farm. One derailment in the supply chain means farmers might not be able to purchase their preferred variety or even fill their planting needs.
In 2011, the U.S. seed corn crop was much smaller than expected, similar to most farmers’ corn yields. "When growers get good yields on their fields, we typically get good yields on our seed fields. When a grower has less-than-expected yields, so do we," says Ben Kaehler, general manager for seed affiliates at Dow AgroSciences.
Kaehler says last year was a difficult seed production year due to extremely hot and dry weather. "Our production was certainly less than expected due to the environmental conditions. It was cut shorter than we ever recall."
The vast majority of seed corn is produced in the Midwest. But, in years such as 2011, seed corn production can be shifted to tropical areas, including South America, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, to reduce shortfalls in supply.
Tom Burrus, president of Burrus Hybrids, says his company aims to produce its entire corn seed crop in the U.S. But 2011’s high temperatures stole yields in their Illinois fields, so they had to rely heavily on winter production in Chile and Argentina.
In South America, seed corn is planted in September or early October and after five months, in February or March, it is ready to be harvested and then shipped back to the U.S.
After harvest, it takes about 30 days to dry and ship the seed to the U.S., Burrus says.
"With early planting, it was mighty close to be able to supply the seed needed to keep the planters running," he explains. "We were able to do it. But many of the bags of seed never made it into the warehouse; they went directly onto trucks and into planters."
To meet the needs of customers, Syngenta’s corn genetics portfolio manager Eric Boersma says, his company uses winter production in emergency situations. "We try to do as much as we can in the Corn Belt," he says. Because it’s more expensive, and has much tighter timing, Syngenta historically tries to keep winter production in South America to a smaller quantity, reserving it for brand-new genetic or trait packages.
As with commercial corn production, the major wild card is weather. Unfavorable conditions at pollination, too much water, drought or damaging winds can destroy a field of seed corn.
Dan Case, DuPont Pioneer supply planning manager, says his company spreads its corn seed production across more than 20 locations in the Midwest to better its odds of producing a
quality crop. "One of the ways to reduce risk is to spread specific products out across multiple geographies."
At the field level, he says, DuPont Pioneer agronomists work with growers to select fields that are well-drained and well-suited for seed production. "Additionally, we manage our planting timeline to avoid heat as much as possible, especially during pollination."
- Seed Guide 2012