The fury of Mother Nature swept across much of the Corn Belt this spring with relentless rains that kept farmers and planters stuck in machine sheds well past optimal planting dates. Now, the wait is on to see what Mother Nature delivers until harvest – and how that might impact seed quality for next year.
“The biggest issue the industry faces in the core corn-production areas is that crops are delayed and need more GDUs [growing degree units],” says Andy Heggenstaller, head agronomy manager, U.S. seeds at Syngenta.
When crops fall behind on GDUs it pushes back pollination – and harvest:
- If pollination occurs during the hottest part of the year, silks can shrivel, causing spotty kernel development, which hurts yields.
- If frost hits before the corn reaches black layer, it can have a detrimental effect on the seeds’ germination.
“From Minnesota to Kentucky and Nebraska to Ohio, there’s going to be a lot of wet corn harvested this fall,” says Ken Ferrie, Farm Journal Field Agronomist. “Seed companies will be concerned about getting seed out of fields before it freezes and the germ quality is affected.”
Issues created at planting are often magnified as the growing season progresses. These compounding problems point to the possibility of lower yields — potentially reducing seed supplies.
“Ramifications of difficult planting include uneven growth, poor stands and reduced root growth,” Heggenstaller explains. “Disease pressure will also be a major concern this year, where seed sat in wet, cold soils.”
In addition to decreasing yield, disease pressure takes a toll on seed quality because it can affect the kernels and beans.
Despite the tough start, several company representatives say they are confident they will have adequate corn and soybean seed supplies for next spring.
“We were really fortunate and got 100% of our seed corn and soybeans planted. We did adjust our seed production plan [for 2020], as the needs of growers changed,” says Tim Greene, president of Burrus Seeds. For example, some farmers switched to shorter-season hybrids because of planting delays, which meant companies needed to produce more of them to replenish the supply for next year.
While getting the 2019 crop in the ground was a victory, the growing season isn’t over yet. Companies say they’re prepared to move quickly to protect seed quality if weather conditions deteriorate.
“If we see a frost coming, we’ll pick the hybrid and get it inside to protect seed quality,” says Jacob Wyffels, vice president of production for Wyffels Hybrids.
Hybrids differ in how frost affects their germ quality, he explains. For instance, a hybrid with 30% moisture can withstand a freeze better than a hybrid at 50% moisture.
“[Frost] could result in more conditioning, more drying and increased cost and complexity of what the industry does on the back end to maintain quality,” Heggenstaller adds.
Ferrie recommends farmers gauge crop progress closely, because it will be a battle until combines stop rolling.
“The number of agronomic issues out there is about as great as it’s ever been,” Ferrie says. “Those farmers who are on top of their game and ready to make in-season decisions will see it pay off this year.”
Make Note When Shopping for Seed
- Consider a higher seed treatment rate if you’re worried about seedling vigor and germination.
- Ask about company germination and condition standards. If you question germ quality, send a sample to your state lab for testing.
- If you want specific hybrids or varieties, hedge your bets and secure your seed order early.
Will South America Fill the Gap?
Pushing seed production to southern neighbors presents a myriad of obstacles for seed companies and ultimately farmers.
One logistical challenge is seed companies need to make product decisions by late summer to ship parent seed to South America for planting.
Tighter planting windows make air freight a necessity, another drawback for seed companies, says Ryan White, Syngenta head of North American seed production and supply. As a result, many major companies are shifting away from South American seed production, even in poor growing years.
“There were planting concerns in some areas of the U.S. this year, but we have the ability to move production from one area to another [in the U.S.] to meet our needs,” says Allen Gent, BASF head of U.S. soybeans. “We do not see the need to move production to South America.”
National seed brands are often better positioned to make up for growing condition shortfalls because of a larger geographical footprint. This year, some seed companies pushed production to western states where the weather presented fewer challenges. For example, Bayer produces seed in 20 different states.
For some regional companies, weather presents a bigger challenge, which could mean they lean more on South American production. ~Sonja Begemann