By Gil Gullickson, Crops Technology Editor for Successful Farming magazine/Agriculture.com
Here are answers to some of the questions you have about seed for 2013.
1. Will there be enough seed?
Seed companies say there will be. They use irrigation to dent drought's impact on seed production. Firms also tap South America and Puerto Rico for winter seed production. Companies aren't just spinning when they say they hit 100% or more of the year's anticipated seed production.
Still, there are seed fields in which drought or other production problems impacted supplies. Even though a company's total seed production may be 100% of its goal or higher, bear in mind that some hybrids and varieties may be below or above that level.
"It's not evenly distributed across hybrids," says Jeff Hartz, director of marketing for Wyffels Hybrids. "There are highs and lows. It doesn't pay to wait if you have a hybrid you really want. If you want a specific product, order and reserve it early."
Ordering now doesn't guarantee you'll obtain that hot hybrid or variety. Still, it does get you a place in line. "If you want to get a specific hybrid or variety, book it now and get it in your shed," says Dave Thompson, national marketing and sales director for Stine Seeds.
2. Will I pay more for seed?
This depends on the specific hybrid or variety. Still, expect slight price increases across the board.
"There has to be a value equation that works for all parties," says Hartz. "That starts to sound cliché, but all parties have to understand what is happening at each other's end. The cost of production has skyrocketed for the very reason that corn was $8 per bushel earlier this year. Seed production is a lot like commercial corn production, except with higher risk and in-put costs." Seed costs vary widely due to transportation costs, added inputs, and other costs.
Hartz notes that the value equation has to work for farmers. Otherwise, they will flock to competitors.
"On the other side of the business, it (value equation) has to work to fund our research and licensing technology," says Hartz. "We have to find a price that works for everyone."
Expect soybean prices to increase, too. "In general, soybean seed prices follow the commodity market, so we will see increases at the seed end," says Thompson.
3. How much should price impact my decision?
Cheap seed might be priced that way for a reason.
"I always ask about price after I decide what to plant," says Rick Ryan, a Malcolm, Iowa, farmer. "If it's a good soybean variety, it can be worth $25 more per bag," he says.
There is a limit to this, though.
"Price is always important to us," says Kip Tom, a Leesburg, Indiana, farmer. "We are bottom-line managers. At the end of the day, we make a choice on seed and look at the price and how much impact it has on our bottom line. It might be that the higher priced seed delivers a better bottom line. But we may go to a lower cost model if we feel it has equal or higher yield potential."
4. How much should 2012 influence my decision?
The drought tolerance of a hybrid or variety is hard to ignore after this year.
"There are 40-year-old farmers who never experienced a drought before," says Curt Claussen, DuPont Pioneer agronomic services director. "I guarantee you farmers who were impacted by drought will look at drought scores in the future."
Still, he and others caution not to plan for a repeat of 2012. "What typically happens is everyone makes decisions based on the last six months," says John Soper, DuPont Pioneer vice president for crop genetics research and development. "Keep the long-term in mind."
Start with yield potential for corn and soybeans. In corn's case, also consider stress tolerance.
"The first question after you select a hybrid is what population to plant it," says Claussen. Planting at high populations makes sense for many hybrids. But higher populations increase stress on a hybrid. Strong standability and strong stalks are key.
Goss's wilt, a bacterial disease in corn, declined in severity in 2012 after expanding its range westward in 2011. Goss's wilt could, however, still infect hybrids in 2013. Don't forget to check for hybrids that resist it, says Claussen.
For soybeans, consider disease resistance after yield potential. "White mold problems were practically nonexistent this year," says Don Schafer, DuPont Pioneer senior marketing manager for soybeans. Still, it hasn't disappeared entirely.
"We are doing more no-till, so there is more trash on the soil," he adds. "The sclerotia can be in the field for 10 to 12 years. With all the sclerotia there, you have to have the right environment and humidity. It's wet weather in June and July that gets white mold going."
Although they won't stop white mold completely, tolerant varieties can reduce severity. Ditto for varieties that resist early-season stressors like Phytopthora root rot and Pythium.
5. How can I spread risk?
This year served as a wake-up call to the importance of planting a diverse mix of hybrids and varieties across a farm.
"We have seen a gravitation to planting fewer and fewer hybrids and varieties across a farm," says Chuck Lee, Syngenta North America. "Farmers got by with just a couple hybrids, rather than four or five. They need to go back and think strategically about managing a portfolio on a farm."
A hybrid or variety that yields head and shoulders above others in good years can sometimes crash in drought years like 2012. "It's important to spread risk by having genetic diversity," says Chris Garvey, Mycogen Seeds general manager.
6. Should I slice relative maturities?
Longer maturing hybrids have higher yield potential than shorter maturing ones. Yield differences are related to the number of kernels produced, says Jeff Coulter, University of Minnesota (U of M) Extension agronomist. Early maturing hybrids don't produce as many kernels as later maturing hybrids because they progress more rapidly through vegetative growth stages.
Still, the gap isn't as large between relative maturities as you might think. U of M tests from 2007 to 2011 at three southern Minnesota sites showed an 8-bushel-per-acre (4%) yield gap between 93- to 97-day hybrids and 103- to 107-day hybrids.
"Relative maturity has only a limited effect on yield," says Coulter. This yield edge was also partially erased by a 3% jump in harvest moisture.
7. Should I take a chance on something new?
Planting a mix of hybrids and varieties based on multiple sites and multiple years is a time-tested method for success.
Still, what happens if your favorite hybrid or variety has been replaced by a new and improved version? After all, hybrids and varieties churn rapidly these days.
"One way to balance matters is to plant tested products on about 66% to 75% of your acres, and then plant new hybrids and varieties on your remaining acres," says Thompson. "That way, you can go with tested ones and try new ones on the rest."
8. Why did my seed bomb?
Don't be too quick to point fingers at a company for a poor-performing hybrid or variety. You may have just planted it on the wrong soil type.
Early in his farming career, Scott Lasater of Gaston, Indiana, and his father planted an early-maturing soybean variety that yielded poorly at harvest.
"We complained to the company from which we purchased it," says Lasater. "It turned out we planted it on a soil type that had medium to lower productivity. Had we planted it on a blacker, more productive soil, the results would have been dramatically different. The failure was due to planting it on the wrong soil type."
9. Will rootworm stay away?
Traits have enabled farmers to nix corn rootworm worries for nearly a decade.
Still, be cautious. Corn rootworm resistance to the Cry3Bb1 protein present in Monsanto's YieldGard RW trait was first confirmed in 2011 in Iowa. This year, University of Illinois (U of I) entomologists confirmed resistance to the same trait in Illinois.
Resistance to this trait developed in the same manner that it surfaced in other control methods. Repeated use of a single-action mode since the YieldGard trait debuted in 2003 has enabled resistant rootworm to surface. Resistance potential isn't limited to this trait. If other rootworm traits are used repeatedly in the same manner, resistance will also surface.
So what can you do? Mike Gray, U of I Extension entomologist, gives these recommendations:
Rotate to soybeans or another nonhost crop.
Apply a soil insecticide with a non-Bt hybrid at planting.
Plant a Bt hybrid that expresses a different corn rootworm Cry protein than one that may have performed poorly in your fields in 2012 or one you've planted for several consecutive years.
Plant a pyramided Bt hybrid that expresses multiple Cry proteins targeted against corn rootworm.
Consider a long-term integrated approach to corn rootworm management that includes multiple tactics.