There are plenty of ag retailers that have determined that seed treatment makes sense for their grower-customer (and cents for their businesses in the process). Here we present some ag retail seed treatment success stories.
Ceres Solutions: Building Efficiencies
Seed treatment services is standard fare at Ceres Solutions LLC, Crawfordsville, IN. With about 85% of soybeans going out the door, getting untreated seed is like buying a car without a radio. “It’s now our standard offering, we’re going to treat the beans unless you tell us not to,” says Randy Fry, agronomy manager, to emphasize the point. “Of course, you always have a choice, but it is an offering we firmly believe in. We recommend to them what they need on that acre, and it has been very successful.”
Ceres offers a “fully loaded” program, featuring fungicides, insecticides, inoculant and growth promoters from Winfield Solutions, Syngenta and Monsanto. Products are field tested on the company’s own plots, and Ceres also works with Winfield Solutions and gains insights on product performance from Winfield’s Answer Plot test data.
To meet the increasing demand for seed treatment, Ceres has focused on efficiency as well as stewardship. “We built four seed hubs where we can custom blend about any seed treatment a grower would want, in quantities ranging from the bag to the semi load,” says Fry. The hub concept replaced multiple, and comparatively inefficient equipment with updated, versatile units that provide greater accuracy of application rate and higher volume. And because there are fewer locations that stock the seed treatment products, stewardship is improved.
Corn seed treatments are a future opportunity. “We haven’t done much on that at all, but growers are asking about it,” says Fry. “We are really in the early stages on that, but plant growth regulators, biologicals, inoculants, micronutrients are things we are looking exploring.”
As crop prices continue to stay high and agriculture maintains its positive outlook, growers will continue to seek out products and practices that provide that extra measure or yield or risk protection, and seed treatments will be a beneficial and profitable part of the plan. “We’re always looking at new things, trying to find the next big thing,” says Fry.
Heartland Cooperative: Building Incremental Benefit
Heartland Cooperative, based in West Des Moines, IA, has extensive experience in using seed treatments, including the five years that Craig Orr has worked there as director of agronomy marketing. He estimates that 75% of the cooperative’s soybeans go out with a seed treatment, which includes a 5% year-over-year improvement on the business overall.
Corn treatment is still in the offing, although Orr says that about 3% of its corn seed sold received a zinc seed treatment.
“It’s a very profitable venue for the cooperative, and very profitable for the customer,” says Orr. “As the cost of seed has gone up, protecting seed against disease and insect pressure gives you higher out of ground population, a better stand and the opportunity for higher yield.” Products are also continuing to improve, he adds, providing better efficacy and higher yield potential.
Monte Van Wyk, seed sales manager for Heartland, says that while growers have in general come to expect their seed to be treated, its benefits are often taken for granted. “It’s more of a hidden advantage, a hidden savior,” says Van Wyk. “They aren’t looking to prove an incremental benefit of the seed treatment alone — if you surveyed growers about their practices, you won’t hear them say, ‘yeah, it’s the seed treatment that saved me.’” But they trust that if a problem arises in the field that the treatment is designed to address, it will do what it’s supposed to do, he adds.
Products used are region-dependent, and include Acceleron, CruiserMaxx and INOVATE. “We haven’t seen a lot of performance differences with different products, they have all been good,” says Van Wyk.
In addition to advancements in products, application methods have improved significantly. “The retail sector pioneered ways to apply the products, originally applying by hand and later by spraying as it came off the augers, to what we have today,” says Van Wyk. “We’re continuously upgrading our systems and improving them each year.”
Heartland runs systems manufactured by KSI Conveyor and Agrilead. The systems feature continuous flow, which automates the process and makes it simpler to monitor inventories and create precise prescriptions. “It’s a weight-based system and it works very well,” says Orr. “It helps us control our inventory costs, it allows us to create a prescription and gives us a printout of everything we are doing so we can be confident that everything is billed. We don’t have to write something down, it is tracked automatically.”
Growers also get a printout of exactly what was done — with the number of bags and units treated, and what they were treated with.
In the future, both Orr and Van Wyk see more product options coming online, including biologicals, as the search for the next yield boosting technology intensifies. “Commodity price increases mean that growers will continue to be interested in yield-increasing technologies, and are apt to try new things,” says Van Wyk. “Biologicals and other types of treatments will provide more tools in the toolbox that help growers enhance yield potential in the crops they grow.”
Winfield Solutions: A Promising Future
For Shoreview, MN-based Winfield Solutions LLC, the past few years have been mighty good to its seed treatment division.
“In the past three years, people have been really excited about seed treatment and there have been a lot of companies getting into the market that hadn’t been there before,” says Gregg Finlay, director of seed treatments, grain protectants and inoculants.
As the majority of its grower-customers are in the winter wheat game, the company has observed the popularity of fungicide treatments increase exponentially. “There have been constant advances and improvements in fungicides,” says Finlay. “BASF and Bayer have come out with some new ones in the past few years and Syngenta just came out with one this past year. Up until then it had been about 20 years of the same old metalaxyl products.
“But, as we all know,” he continues. “Mother Nature tends to take care of her own, and pretty soon you’re seeing more and more resistance to various fungicides, so you have got to change them up.”
The growing adoption of insecticide treatments has also been good to Winfield, says Finlay. “Historically speaking, there’s a lot more insecticides being used now, in both the wheat and soybean market,” he says. “The last couple years, we’ve gone from around 35% insecticide use to about 65% to 70%.”
In general, soybean numbers are also up, from 30% of its total beans being treated three years ago to a 90% application rate this season, according to Finlay. He also estimates 99% of the corn seed Winfield sells is treated.
One of the more interesting trends Finlay notes from his 33 years in the seed business is the changing perception of soybeans. “Soybeans traditionally have always been a kind of step-child in ag,” he explains. “The old joke out in the field was always, ‘Oh, you don’t want to buy any beans, do you?’ after buying all your corn seed. But now, it’s more of a ‘Well, here’s your soybeans,’ and the salesman asks “You want the full meal deal on that?’ — which is fungicide, insecticide and the inoculant — the entire package, and now the growers are saying ‘Yeah.’ No question, that is mostly due to $18 beans.”
The price of the seed itself is another reason behind the rapid adoption of seed treatments, according to Finlay. “Thirty years ago, it was $35 for a bag of corn, and guys would say ‘Gee, that’s a lot of money.’ Now it’s about $300-plus a bag, depending on the traits you have, so seed treatment on that is extremely important and a pretty easy sell.”
As for the next big growth area in seed treatments, from the retailer perspective, Finlay sees increased adoption of automated treating systems like Bayer’s On Demand and Agrilead’s NOVO systems.
“As more biologicals and add-ons enter the market, these automated systems are basically the future of seed treatment,” he says. “Especially as more and more retailers are putting on multiple products for a localized prescription, with these systems you just plug those things in and away they go.”
Going forward, properly stewarding this growing segment of ag retail is going to be crucial, especially in terms of keeping increased government regulation to a minimum.
“Right now, the biggest thing in the industry is being environmentally responsible,” says Finlay.