The challenging growing season of 2011 did more than impact corn yields. All indications are that seed corn supplies for 2012 will be affected as well, and companies are developing contingency strategies to meet what is expected to be another banner year for corn sales.
“Seed corn production has gone through a number of challenges in 2011,” says Tom Newman, agronomic marketing manager for Wyffels Hybrids. “We started off with timely planting, but our fields ran the gamut from dry weather to wet conditions to wind.”
Newman was interviewed in early September, when the seed corn harvest was yet to get fully under way. But early indications are that the crop will be less than normal. “We are already planning to ramp up our South American production to make up for reductions in seed corn yield,” Newman says. “We typically start planting seed in South America during September and October.”
Dave Koehn, regional sales agronomist with Stine Seed, says a handful of seed corn fields could see as much as a 20% reduction in seed yield. “We are evaluating our options for South American production and which hybrids to grow there,” he says. “We try to hedge our production by growing seed corn throughout the Midwest. But this year, there were few areas that didn’t have challenging growing conditions.”
Stephen Smith, sales leader for Mycogen Seeds, says having seed production in several locations throughout the Midwest did help. “But Mother Nature has thrown many challenges at seed producers, no different than corn producers,” he says. “Although production will vary from location to location, we are expecting some lower yields from our seed corn crop. It’s still early, but we are carefully evaluating what hybrids were impacted.”
Charlie Foresman, corn systems technology lead for Monsanto, says yields across the Corn Belt were most likely affected most by the summer’s hot weather, especially the hot nights. “Because seed corn is an inbred, it is more susceptible to stresses,” he says.
Foresman notes that the company has a majority of its seed corn acres under irrigation, and production is spread over a wide geography globally.
Seed companies plan supplies with a short crop in mind. “We do as many things as we can to mitigate risk,” Foresman says. That includes over-production in case of a crop failure elsewhere. However, with the widespread growing challenges throughout the Midwest, there were few areas that went through the growing season unscathed.
South America provides an alternative and allows companies to make up for short seed supplies, but it’s an option that can create its own challenges. Companies first have to determine what their needs are, secure the acreage, plant the crop, and then get the seed conditioned and back to the United States in time for planting. “Growing seed puts a lot of pressure on the supply chain,” Newman says.
Seed companies’ advice to producers hasn’t changed: If you want your best selection of hybrids, order early to ensure you get what you want. “Our sales staff has been out early, and growers are getting seed supply reserved,” Newman says. “Our sales are ahead of last year.”
Smith says growers understand that 2011 was a challenging year for everyone and are making their buying decisions earlier. “It is still early, but we need to be cautious moving forward,” he says. “We are making sure growers and selling dealers are aware of the potential issue.”