Before a single acre of seed corn is planted, companies must ensure they have secured quality farmland to grow the crop. Because many growers have long-standing working relationships with the seed companies, the challenge hasn’t necessarily been companies battling companies for a piece of ground. It’s been the underlying commodity market.

“Certainly seed companies compete for acreage,” says Dan Case, supply planning manager for DuPont Pioneer. “Often a lot of the major players are in some of the same geographies. But the biggest competitor, especially when corn prices are high, is commodity corn. We have to pay for the underlying commodity plus an incentive to produce the seed.”

For the producer, the complexities are significant. Corn inbreds are often planted in multiple stages, at designated intervals, to ensure proper pollination and to spread out the time between jobs such as detasseling and harvest.

“We target reliable farmers who produce high-yielding, high-quality crops,” says Shawn Schrader, Monsanto North American corn manufacturing lead. “But with the overall rise in commodity prices, we have had additional challenges in securing these areas as farmer interest has shifted to other crops that can achieve a higher return to their operation.”

Good seed corn ground, which is often irrigated, is also highly sought-after land for commercial production of not only corn, but other crops as well. “Some of our best irrigated ground competes directly with vegetable producers,” Hartung says.

“Seed corn is a specialty product, and you can’t plant 500 acres in a day,” he says. “There is a large tier of very good growers who will not slow their pace to plant seed corn.”