John Olson says he doesn’t remember the exact year he and his brother, Mike, first started producing seed beans. He does recall some memorable years, though, like the fall they had 10 different soybean varieties to harvest for seed.
"It can get a bit hairy," says Olson, who farms near McLean, Ill.
Attention to detail. As the Olsons know well, producing seed crops is exacting work that requires above-average agronomic abilities and a willingness to be flexible.
"You definitely need patience," says Joy Bonin, who manages the farmer seed production contracts for Latham
Hi-Tech Seeds, based in Alexander, Iowa. First, farmers must commit to and deliver a corn or soybean seed
product that meets rigorous company specifications for quality.
"It’s a partnership, and you have to be comfortable with someone else helping you manage that crop and being in your fields from time to time," says Bruce Searle, corn operations manager for AgReliant Genetics, based in Westfield, Ind.
Seed companies also look for farmers who have fertile soils, the ability to irrigate and a location with close proximity to production facilities.
Farmers must also produce a nearly 100% genetically pure crop. That is particularly important with seed corn, which can be contaminated by neighboring corn crops during pollination.
To ensure the delivery of a pure crop, each time growers plant or harvest a different corn hybrid or soybean variety, they must thoroughly clean equipment, including planter boxes, combines, trucks, wagons and even conveyor systems.
"It takes me two or three hours each time I have to clean my combine," Olson says. "If a guy is bothered by downtime at harvest, this isn’t the job for him."
Bonin says seed producers usually have more paperwork than commercial growers. "We require them to report the herbicides applied, rates used and dates, and they also have to map their fields, which we then physically inspect," she says.
Despite the additional requirements for seed production, Bonin notes that Latham has long-term business relationships with most of its seed producers.
Advantage points. The Olsons say raising seed beans is important to their operation.
"We do this to have access to the newest genetic traits and technology," says John, who grows seed beans with his brother for Monsanto Company under the Asgrow brand.
Access to agronomic support and financial premiums also factor into the Olsons’ decision.
Monsanto sources say seed bean growers see a $45 to $55 per acre return. Seed corn producers net, on average, $150 more per acre than commercial producers, Searle says.