Early Bird Gets the Seed

November 9, 2012 08:58 PM
Early Bird Gets the Seed

Drought and heat reduce supplies of popular hybrids

Top off a bird feeder with black oil sunflower seeds and the birds will dive like rockets to get first dibs. Those who are too slow have to make do with leftovers.

Some corn producers will face a similar challenge in the coming weeks when selecting hybrids for next year. Industry leaders say many of the most popular hybrids will be available only in limited supplies as a result of the historic 2012 drought.

The hybrids hit hardest this past summer were the 105-day and later maturity ones, notes Kent Schulze, an associate with Minnesota-based Cornland Consulting. Schulze estimates that 90% of this year’s U.S. seed corn crop was grown in drought-impacted areas.

"Even the best-irrigated fields in droughty areas will come up 10% to 20% off normal yields, and I expect dryland acres will be worse," he says.

Heat was also a big driver, according to Dave Snedden, North America row crops manufacturing lead for Monsanto Company. Prolonged high temperatures for multiple days and nights during the pollination period were just as hard on seed corn crops as the lack of moisture. To mitigate such risks, Snedden says, Monsanto spreads its seed corn crop acres across the U.S. from east to west and north to south.

Most other seed companies do likewise and also place more than half of their seed crop acres under irrigation. "Our seed crops are grown in a mix of soil types and agronomic conditions," says Dan Case, DuPont Pioneer supply planning manager.

In addition, companies routinely produce more seed than is needed in any given year. "We planned for twice the number of acres we actually sold corn for in 2011," says Scott Beck, vice president of Beck’s Hybrids. As a result, the company has an adequate supply of its leading hybrids going into 2013.

Other companies report they also have adequate amounts of seed for farmers to plant next spring, thanks to a combination of carryover from previous years, summer production and winter production, explains Craig Newman, CEO of AgReliant Genetics in Westfield, Ind.

The leftovers. Schulze says enough seed corn is available to plant 95 million acres in 2013 if companies clean out their warehouses and pipeline. "But once you get into the corner of the warehouse, people are going to get their third or fourth choice of hybrids," he contends.

That’s not necessarily all bad, he adds, explaining that older seed products in warehouses might have higher germination and overall quality than some of the hybrids from this year.

"Farmers still need to be thinking about selecting hybrids best suited for their ground—solid, stable performers—and planting them in a timely manner," says Chris Garvey, general manager of Mycogen Seeds at Dow AgroSciences.

Winter production. Seed production now under way in Argentina and Chile will boost the availability of hybrids next spring. Newman estimates winter production will provide between 15% and 20% of the seed corn U.S. farmers plant in 2013.

Schulze says winter production is contributing to an increase in retail seed prices of 4% to 8% compared with last year. "Stay close to your seed dealer so you know what’s going on," Schulze recommends.

That’s the strategy Terry Finegan is using. The Jonesville, Mich., farmer says he’s confident he got the hybrids he needs. "I buy my hybrids in October, which is what I do every year, and that probably helps," he notes.

Farmers are responding proactively to seed companies’ warnings to buy seed corn early, according to a Farm Journal Pulse survey, a text message poll of farmers. When asked when they plan to buy seed corn hybrids for the 2013 crop, 85% of the 1,447 producers surveyed replied they will complete their purchases by Dec. 31.

Newman says that because seed supplies are so tight, he expects 2013 will be a "huge" seed production year.

"It’s going to take us a couple of years to refill the pipeline and get back to some level of normal," he says.

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