Advanced seed systems benefit farmers
Just like in Field of Dreams, build it and they will come. At least that is how Elsberry, Mo., Pioneer Hi-Bred sales agent Myra Beauchamp feels. This past spring, after installing a bulk bin seed system with on-site treater and fully automated controls, her soybean volume increased 30%.
"Six years ago, I saw that bulk seed of this scale was the future," Beauchamp says. "Putting up this investment helps my customers feel that I’m invested in my business to serve them."
The benefits of bulk seed distribution for farmers include quicker pickup and refills, the ability to order in precise increments, fresh treatment of biological products and easier and safer handling.
In good company. Across the U.S. and parts of Canada, thousands of soybean seed dealers for Pioneer, Monsanto Company and Syngenta have installed bulk seed systems.
"We have been helping our dealers plan for bulk seed distribution for more than 10 years," says Gary Wietgrefe, Syngenta Seeds bulk equipment specialist. "When we started, we set a standard for these systems, including how fast belt conveyors can run and how far seed can drop. This became our trademarked TruBulk system."
Ten years ago, the average bulk seed system included two 2,000-unit tanks, Wietgrefe explains. Today, the minimum to install a system is three 3,000-unit tanks. Syngenta encourages its dealers to have space in their layout for up to six tanks.
"Today, most seed dealers would like to have four to six seed bins to store their main varieties," says Paul Kaeb, president and CEO of KSi Conveyors Inc. "High-quality belt conveyors transfer the seed from bulk storage to a certified scale hopper. Then seed can be accurately treated [with inoculants, insecticide and fungicide] from the scale or by volumetric measuring. From there, the seed is delivered or picked up with a tender."
Beauchamp’s bulk system includes four bins with a combined capacity of 12,000 bu. She has three varieties in the bins: one bin stores an early variety, one is for double-cropping after wheat, and two bins hold her most popular variety. A conveyor is installed on the side of her warehouse and can hook to a Pro Box in the warehouse. An underbin conveyor brings the seed to a certified scale.
"I use an automated system so I can preload all of my customers’ orders. When they are on my lot, I can push a button to call up their order, select the variety, treat the seed and load the seed wagon with 200 units in 10 minutes," Beauchamp says.
Moving that much seed that fast is aided by high-tech automation systems.
"Today, we don’t put in bulk handling systems without the automation," Kaeb says. "The controls can be integrated to handle the customer database and provide end-of-year reports—it’s much more than just an operating system."
Bulk is the way to go. Before installing her automated bulk system, 80% of Beauchamp’s soybean sales were already in the bulk boxes.
"We are seeing and continue to see grower demand and interest in something other than a 50-lb. bag," says Don Schafer, Pioneer senior marketing manager, soybeans. "Ten years ago, 60% of our business was in small packaging. This year, less than 20% of our soybeans were in a 50-lb. bag, and the rest of our product was distributed through bulk boxes or bulk delivery to the dealer."
Eliminating unnecessary packaging reduces handling and provides new opportunities for farmers. Bulk seed systems allow seed to be ordered in increments not previously available.
"Customers can order in odd units and get the exact quantity they need," Beauchamp says.
Kaeb says the systems are efficient and can be calibrated for varying seed sizes. When designing its conveyors, he adds, KSi put a lot of thought into how to integrate the incline and movement of the seeds’ travel path with the ability to operate the belt at a speed that preserves seed quality.
Overall, bulk systems are a tool for maintaining a high level of seed quality, especially when compared with individual bags that are more frequently handled.
Another way that bulk systems can aid in seed quality is with just-in-time seed treatments.
"Seed treatment is the fastest growing agronomic practice in soybeans," says Jerry Devore, Monsanto’s marketing manager for Asgrow.
According to Syngenta’s Wietgrefe, 40% of the soybeans planted in the U.S. are treated with an inoculant.
"There will no longer be a preapplied, single-treatment package that fits all acres," he says. "Bulk systems offer opportunities with live bacteria, growth stimulants and inoculants, so the sooner you plant after treatment, the more live count you have put in the ground with the seed."
In Beauchamp’s setup, the seed treater has two tanks: one with a fungicide and insecticide and a second with an inoculant.
"Having a seed treater tied into my bulk system allows me to provide customized service to my customers," she says. "My growers fight phytophthora, so I can easily provide a seed treatment package to address what they face in the field."
As bulk systems speed up seed delivery and offer more treatment options, the equipment also streamlines labor with automated seed handling and increases safety. Beauchamp’s system has cut her forklift time in half. It also means fewer farmers are lifting and carrying 50-lb. bags.
"In 1986, Syngenta introduced the 2,000-lb. bulk bag of soybean seed, but before that, it was all 50-lb. paper bags," Wietgrefe says. "In 1993, we introduced the Q-Bit plastic box. By the fall of 2008, 50% of our soybeans were in paper bags and 50% in Q-Bits or bulk bags. Every 1% shift to bulk means 800,000 fewer paper bags. Today, about 80% of our soybeans are in bulk (either Q-Bits, bulk bags or TruBulk) and 20% are in paper bags."
As the value of seed increases, the investment of bulk handling will likely increase as well. Seed industry leaders forecast more dealers installing bulk seed handling systems.
"I see 50% of the industry’s total soybean seed volume in bulk form in the next couple of years because it is being driven by farmer demand," Devore says. "We’ve seen Asgrow’s bulk seed shipments nearly triple in the past three years."