Nervous farmers scramble for corn seed after drought
Elk Mound Seed Co in Wisconsin signed contracts to buy roughly 20 percent more corn seed from the 2012 harvest than it did in 2011, in hopes of avoiding a crunch.
However, the increased acres under contract were offset by yields that missed expectations by about 20 to 25 percent, owner Mike Zutter said.
"We're really glad we did contract for more, because now we're not going to get to get the fills" on all of the orders, he said.
"I'm not going to holler wolf," he said. "There'll be seed out there. Is it tight? Yes."
Stine Seed Co, which says it is the largest independent U.S. seed company, planted more acres in the United States and contracted to import almost 20 percent more corn seed from South America this year.
The company decided to increase its imports "considering what we went through the year before" with tight supplies, said Myron Stine, vice president of sales.
"We'll still be short on particular hybrids," he said.
Companies were more or less vulnerable to crop damage depending on where their seed was produced.
Stine Seed produces about two-thirds of its seed in central Iowa, where yields were down but still generally "good," Stine said. Some fields in Illinois, where southern areas were devastated, produced "nothing," he said.
If "you're going to Indiana, Iowa," Stine said, "the drought is just not as severe."
Pioneer, one of the world's largest seed companies, grows seed across the Corn Belt, from Nebraska to Indiana, with the large geographic area designed to mitigate events like the drought that devastated crops in certain regions and not others.
The company increased its plans to import seed from South America during the summer as the severity of the U.S. drought came into focus.
However, its "actual reliance on imports has actually tended to dwindle" because U.S. yields were not as bad as expected, said Dan Case, supply planning manager.
"Certainly this was one of the most challenging production years I've seen," he said, declining to detail the U.S. yields. "We've been really pleasantly surprised with the yields."
Corn grown for seed is a smaller subset of production. Companies produce it on their own land or sign contracts to buy it from farmers.
Corn grown for seed often suffers severe damage from poor weather because it is produced from a genetically pure line that has not been bred with multiple traits to combat adverse conditions. By contrast, corn grown for grain is hardier because it is a hybrid of the best qualities of pure varieties.
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