Seed Systems Top Watch List

The New Year finds many dealers anxiously awaiting a variety of new trait technologies, as seed companies move the newcomers through trials and regulatory requirements. Then too, retailers are trying to find new ways to make the current wide variety of seed available more profitable in light of customers’ escalating demands and climbing seed prices.

The most talked-about traits these days tie in to growing herbicide resistance problems and offer new approaches using long-standing weed control tools. Specifically, Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Plus Xtend System allows plants to metabolize dicamba, while Dow AgroSciences’ Enlist Weed Control System enables crops to metabolize 2,4-D.

Mike Malone, president of Agri-AFC, Decatur, AL, is one dealer who thinks the new seed will be good for his business and “an excellent tool for resistant weeds.” But he says the technology could present the same problems as Roundup and Liberty. Growers will be tempted to see the systems as one shot over-the-top weed control and neglect following up with vital residual herbicides.

Malone should know about herbicide system “abuse.” His region has faced the now-infamous herbicide resistant Palmer amaranth problems, thanks to bad application strategies.

The leadership team at North Central Farmers Elevator, Ipswich, SD, has talked about the traits internally, especially voicing concerns about how big a challenge the new crops are going to be custom application-wise. “Even in educating farmers …  they get confused between the two traits just talking about them,” says Lane Mielke, director of operations.

He envisions needing to teach growers to keep good records — to make sure they know what they’re planting and make sure they’re telling North Central the right product to put over top of it. “There are certainly going to be some mistakes made over this deal,” he adds.

Part of the problem lies in the compounds’ toxicity and volatility. To address this issue in part, Dow has developed a new premix called Enlist Duo that contains glyphosate and a new formulation of 2,4-D choline that promises ultra-low volatility, minimized potential for drift, lower odor and better handling characteristics than commercially available 2,4-D amine or ester formulations.

Mike Vande Logt, executive vice president and COO, Land O’Lakes Inc., St. Paul, MN, believes use of the dicamba/2,4-D traits will enable the continued use of reduced till and no-till, environmentally friendly systems that will ultimately increase the sustainability of agriculture.

“These systems enable increased water and fuel conservation, thereby decreasing the inputs per bushel,” he says. “This is a real big deal in the world of agriculture.”

Vande Logt says the products’ biggest challenges lie in their stewardship. Improved formulations, drift reduction agents, proper nozzles and the right spray conditions will enable both trait technologies to work safely and effectively.

Dry Times

Dealers we talked with also expressed optimism about the new drought resistant technologies, now at varied stages of trialing, regulatory approval and marketing. Syngenta is offering Artesian, Monsanto has developed DroughtGard and DuPont Pioneer will sell Optimum AQUAmax.

Vande Logt says the drought traits are interesting in light of the fact that growing seasons seem to be getting hotter and drier, especially during grain fill. The technology will also allow corn movement further west into the High Plains.

As long as yields are comparable to non-drought-tolerant seed, Malone thinks the products will be a fit for his company. In fact, in Georgia, where the bulk of his customers’ acreage is irrigated, the seed could help reduce irrigation in some areas.

Located in the central sands of Wisconsin, Jay-Mar Inc. is in a region where “every year has drought-like conditions unless you have irrigation,” says Wayne Solinsky, head of sales. He’ll try the seed, providing they are not priced “too crazy high.”

Indeed, Mielke thinks there’s “a lot of marketing with these products and not a lot of value yet,” but he sees exciting possibilities as the traits progress. He does admit that when growers see the words “drought guard” on a hybrid, they think it’s going to be able to go through anything. “The expectation is higher than it really should be,” he says. Ultimately, he believes sales of the drought products will triple and quadruple, limited only by supplies.

Variable-Rate’s Slow Rise

Variable-rate (VR) planting is being seen as one new way to get the biggest bang from high-tech varieties. Helping growers use this practice is still a work in progress at many dealerships.

Mielke definitely sees the value in VR, and precision planting recommendations are a growth area at North Central. For instance, many growers want to push planting populations every year, but face consistently poor-performing areas in fields. “As a bag of seed gets higher and higher priced every year, customers are wasting dollars planting high populations in those areas,” he explains. Variable planting would put the right seed in the spots identified as generating the highest yields.

Mielke also thinks VR planting will be a good tool for growers in the future to provide calibrated field information to crop insurance companies. The data could eliminate the need for representatives to go out to the farm to measure bins, for example.

One challenge for North Central has been how much to charge for VR recommendations. Growers don’t realize how many man-hours go into processing yield data, and the price can be a sore spot for customers when they get the bill.

Solinsky says VR planting is seeing strong interest from his growers. Jay-Mar already offers VR fertilizer, and VR irrigation is “starting to come on strong.” He says with the varying soil types in sand in his region, the technology makes sense.

So far only a few customers at Agri-AFC are doing precision planting. But through the company’s AccuField precision services, staff can draw up the prescriptions for growers, then send the data out via modem or memory stick. Malone believes that as producers become more comfortable with precision ag and what it can bring to them, this technology will grow.

Seed Relations

Dealers we talked with had a variety of opinions on how seed companies do business and on how they can improve going forward.

Malone says his team has a “tremendous” relationship with its seed partners and works closely with them, particularly in engineering Agri-AFC’s variety trials. In fact, the dealership’s agronomy department has taken some of the load off a few seed companies, planting its own cottonseed trials throughout its territory and sharing the results with these suppliers.

Mielke points out how many brands are actually under the same umbrella of ownership. Yet, “it blows my mind how many wasteful dollars are spent in the industry fighting each other — yet both the seed reps’ paychecks have the same name on them at the end of the day,” he says.

He is also concerned about seed companies’ “bad habit of looking out for number one instead of maybe their customer, unlike what we have to do.”

Bottom line: Solinsky really wishes seed companies would change the way they do business. “They all play the same game,” he says. “They come out with their prices, usually too high, then try to go after other chemical/seed companies by offering bigger discounts to convert them with special deals, but loyal customers get very little.” His advice: Stop the games and drop the price so the price is what it is — so it doesn’t matter how many bags dealers/growers buy, how many extra dollars suppliers will throw in or how many free bags they will throw in.

Solinsky feels cost of seed is one of the biggest challenges facing his business and growers. Seed cannot get so expensive that growers can’t make money. He’s found everyone looks at the corn and soybean commodity prices, then tries to increase seed prices to what the market will bear.

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