As U.S. corn producers continue the push toward more and more corn acres — surpassing 96 million acres in 2012 — the pressure on the entire production system has mounted exponentially. Nowhere is that pressure felt more than at the beginning of the corn cycle — growing hybrid corn seed.
“Seed demand [for 2012] has been nothing short of phenomenal,” says Don Hartung, vice president of Hartung Brothers, a contract producer of hybrid seed corn. Sitting in his Madison, Wis., office in early May, Hartung is just wrapping up 2012 sales as the 2013 production crop gets into the ground. “The overall need for seed corn is increasing the demand on the entire market, from quality land, to good employees to production facilities,” he says.
A combination of factors has pushed the seed corn market into somewhat uncharted territories, where suppliers and growers work to satisfy the ever-growing demand for quality hybrid corn seed. And demand is not expected to subside anytime soon.
“The past three years has seen quite a change from the previous decade,” explains Joel Francque, production area supervisor for Wyffels Hybrids. “We went through a period in the early 2000s where traits were still evolving and the industry as a whole kept working to have enough of the right traits ready to sell.”
That, in turn, built seed corn inventories as newer traits and trait packages were being rolled out almost on a yearly basis. “So there was a stretch of several years where we all tried to pare down our inventories so when the next new trait comes along we’re not holding a lot of obsolete inventory,” Francque says.
At the same time, seed corn producers had several back-to-back years of good growing conditions, which further increased inventory.
But since 2009, production has not been as robust. “Combined, total inventory was fairly empty even in 2010, and since then it’s been difficult to catch up,” Francque says. While a significant amount of seed corn acreage is under irrigation, producers are somewhat concerned that the 2012 seed crop’s production may be under stress as well.
“Back 20 years ago we would raise the same hybrids five years in a row,” Hartung says. “Now, if we see the same number two years in a row it must be one heck of a hybrid. With all these fast changes to traits and hybrid packages, the industry doesn’t want to hold on to old products that no one wants to buy.”