Today soybean producers have a choice in how they buy their soybean seed: They can buy by weight or by seed count.

“Either method is fine,” notes Vince M. Davis, assistant professor of soybean production systems at the University of Illinois. “Producers have traditionally purchased soybean seed by weight, but as seed prices have increased and producers are taking a much closer look at soybean seeding rates, there has been increased interest in soybean seed by the number of seeds.”

Seed by count

Syngenta Seeds announced that for the 2010 growing season it would transition to selling soybean seed in what the company calls its EZ-Count 140,000 seed unit.

“Our seed count provides growers a more precise and equitable way to buy soybeans,” says Matt Tenhaeff, marketing manager for Syngenta Seeds. “It takes the guesswork out of buying soybean seeds. Producers can focus on their agronomic needs and not think about seed size and what they would need. This method provides growers with accuracy, uniform pricing and assurance they are purchasing the correct amount of seed.”

While the weight of 140,000 seed units will vary, the number of seeds in each unit will always equal 140,000. For 2010, EZ-Count units were only sold in paper bags, bulk bags and bulk boxes in new launch products. Syngenta is expanding the program across all sales platforms in 2011.

For growers, the number of seed units in bulk boxes could be either 40 units or 50 units, depending on the seed size. “A grower will still purchase one hard-side box, and generally it averages 2,800 seeds/lb., which would be 50 units/box,” Tenhaeff says. “But in the case of larger seed, the box would hold only 40 units. The same container will hold 40 or 50 units depending on the size of the seed.”

An EZ-Count 140,000 seeds unit at 2,800 seeds/lb. equals 50 lbs. of seed/unit. However, if larger seed were to equal 2,300 seeds/lb., that same unit would weigh nearly 61 lbs. “So our bulk box could contain 40 units of seed if it were larger,” Tenhaeff says.

“This year all of our new product launches were sold as seed count, and the response has been very good,” Tenhaeff says. “This positive response is encouraging as we transfer our entire portfolio to EZ-Count in 2011.”

The transition to sales by the number of soybean seeds per unit has been under way for several years. “We have worked to adapt our supply chain to the change,” Tenhaeff says. That transition included identifying seed size changes and how it would impact the supply chain.

The transition required Syngenta to upgrade its equipment to handle varying bag sizes and weights and to be able to weigh units to one-tenth of a pound. “Corn has been selling by count for more than 40 years,” Tenhaeff says. “Soybeans are the last large seeded row crop in the U.S. to start selling seed by count.

“Producers ultimately benefit because they know exactly what they are getting,” Tenhaeff continues. “If the producer knows the number of seeds he is getting in an order, he ensures that he has the number of seeds on hand during planting.”

Seed by the pound

Pioneer Hi-Bred continues to sell soybean seed units by a weighted measure. According to the company, it comes down to simplifying the buying decision. “The main objective we have is a focus on getting the right product on the right acre,” says Terry Gardner, director of North American product marketing at Pioneer. “When seed size is larger than normal, there is a lot of discussion on seed size when the real discussion should be on the genetics in the seed. Taking seed size out of the equation helps us focus on our key message.”

In 2007, Pioneer went one step further. It gives customers a graduated discount on soybean varieties or lots with fewer than 2,800 seeds/lb.

“Seed size varies depending on variety or environmental conditions,” Gardner says. “Our seed size guarantee establishes a ceiling for seed costs per acre. So instead of talking about discounts and seed price adjustments, we can focus on genetics.”

Soybean seeds have traditionally been sold by weight, which is an advantage because of its simplicity.

Selling by weight also simplifies seed movement in the production chain. “A lot of our sales representatives have bulk facilities,” Gardner explains. “As they add more bulk, selling seed by count could require them to increase the number of containers to handle varying seed sizes, even within the same variety.”

That could be inefficient for the producer as well. “As more producers move toward bulk delivery systems, segregating seed by size could require more bulk containers of the same seed variety,” Gardner says. “That means more storage space and more handling.”

Customer reaction, according to Gardner, has been favorable. “Each seed lot has a specific number of seeds per pound,” he says. “When producers purchase seed, they are assured of what they are getting, no matter what the seed size.”

The company continues to monitor soybean seed lots, and each lot has a specific seed size per pound that is printed on the seed tag.