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What to know about prescription seeding

  • 01

    Why it’s important

    Picking the right hybrid or variety is the most important decision you make all year. University of Illinois data shows that at 60-bushel-per-acre yield levels, soybean variety yields can differ by 10 to 12 bushels per acre within the same relative maturity group. With corn, Iowa State University trials show that up to 50-bushel-per-acre yield differences can occur in hybrids within a relative maturity group.

  • 02

    Make a match

    Scott Schuler thinks one way to glean these increased bushels is by matching corn hybrids with soil types. “I have always wanted to plant certain hybrids on certain soils,” says the North Manchester, Indiana, farmer. That’s difficult in areas like northern Indiana, where fields commonly contain six to eight different soil types.

  • 03

    Soil-type zones

    Schuler bases his management zones on soil types. He plants the zone containing a field’s top-three productive soils to a fast-growing racehorse offensive hybrid. He plants the management zone with poorer soils to a defensive hybrid that does best in challenging fields.

  • 04

    Offensive Vs. defensive differences

    Breeders ramp up both offensive and defensive hybrids with yield potential. Defensive hybrids, though, tend to contain characteristics that better enable them to withstand stressful conditions. “Breeders will breed for characteristics like more roots to better withstand drought,” says Scott Beck with Beck’s Hybrids. 

  • 05

    Does it work?

    So far, Beck’s Hybrids’ tests show that offensive hybrids in appropriate yield zones outyield defensive ones by 17 bushels per acre. Meanwhile, defensive hybrids topped offensive hybrids by 7 bushels per acre in the opposing management zone. Even at $4-per-bushel corn, that’s a $28-per-acre to $68-per-acre difference.

  • 06

    Data formed from the sky  

    WinField merges multiyear satellite imagery of a field’s characteristics with hybrid performance from its test plot. Data also includes the field’s soil type, planting populations, fertility application rates, and rotation information. “We provide this information to our agronomists to help them fine-tune recommendations,” says Dave Gebhardt, WinField director of data and technology. 

  • 07

    What is FieldScripts?

    Participating farmers give FieldScripts certified DeKalb dealers field boundaries, yield data, and soil tests. Monsanto then uses its seed-by-environment data based on more than 20 parameters to prescribe a hybrid that specifically matches the field. “Soil types are part of it, but we wanted to dig deeper,” says Justin Durdan, a Streator, Illinois, farmer testing the system.

  • 08

    What ties goose hunting with seeding rates?  

    Hunters often come away empty when they flock-shoot into a speckled sky of hundreds of snow geese. It’s the same thing with corn seeding rates. Matching the right seeding rate with the right field area enables you to bag more bushels. That’s the second part of the FieldScripts product.

  • 09

    Does varying populations pay?

    So far, Monsanto’s field testing shows a 5 to 10 bushel per acre yield edge for variable-seeding rates over static populations. “Lots of yield is driven by plant populations,” says Dale Sorensen, Monsanto Integrated Farming Systems (IFS) field research lead. “In some cases, it is more redistribution in the field. Some growers were actually overseeding in their fields.”

  • 10

    How much does FieldScripts cost?

    Monsanto prices FieldScripts at $10 per acre on a field-by-field basis. Equipment needed to retrofit a planter ranges between $12,000 to $30,000. Components needed include an iPad with the FieldView Plus App and Precision Planting’s 20/20 Seed Sense and 20/20 Row Flow products. 

  • 11

    What’s missing?

    Weather-prediction data. That may be changing, though, with Monsanto’s recent purchase of The Climate Corporation. “We combine a lot of differing aspects of weather modeling, agronomic production modeling, and physical and spatial modeling to estimate conditions in a field,” says David Friedberg,  CEO of The Climate Corporation.

  • 12

    Cloudy issues

    Although 2013 final corn yields are yet to be determined, yields since 2010 have run below trendline. That follows above-trendline yields of the six previous years (2004 to 2009). “Out of the past 100 years, we never had more than six years in a row of above-trendline yields,” says Elwynn Taylor, Iowa State University climatologist. It just means you’ll have to keep this in mind when picking hybrids and varieties.

  • 13

    Can you match hybrid with the weather?

    For now, no way. Just ask Josh Van Kooten, who farms near Pella, Iowa. “Earlier this year, we were worried about getting the crop in June due to rainfall. In mid-September, we were burning up,” Van Kooten says. “You can have data point after data point after data point, but Mother Nature is unpredictable,” says DuPont Pioneer’s Justin Heath.

  • 14

    Broad swath

    That’s why Stine Seeds aims at broad-based hybrids that fare well across a host of weather conditions. “We aren’t as much on the train on variable-rate and variable-application products as much as just having roundly adapted genetic packages that are strong,” says Stine’s David Thompson. “Saying this hybrid will work in one field but not in another is not what we think is the right approach."

  • 15

    Who controls the data?

    You do, say companies offering prescription-seeding programs. “We want a system where you control the data and what you do with it,” says Beck’s Hybrids’ Scott Beck. “You are 100% in charge of who sees the data.” Monsanto, too, says you are in charge. “You are the only person we send that information back to,” says Dave Rhylander, Monsanto IFS lead.

  • 16

    Prescriptions not for everything

    How a company conducts hybrid and variety tests can influence yield outcome and recommendations. Plot size can impact performance of adjacent hybrids. “We have actually internally revamped over the last several years the way we evaluate products prior to launch,” says Bruce Battles, solutions development manager for Syngenta.

  • 17

    Don’t forget disease

    It’s important to ask your seed dealer about factors that may fly under the radar like disease. “Goss’s wilt can negatively impact high-yielding but susceptible hybrids,” says Kiersten Wise, Purdue University Extension plant pathologist. “Since 2008, the disease has become more problematic in many states like Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana.”

  • 18

    Boots on the ground

    Questions remain about prescription-seeding products, says Jeff Hartz, marketing director for Wyffels Hybrids. How much farmers will pay for such services is a question. Ditto for the methodology behind a seed-prescription recommendation. “You may not be able to write an accurate prescription until the second or third year is commercialized,” he says.

  • 19

    Finally, be a pest

    Prescription seeding may make your life easier. Still, continue to ask questions of your seed company. “Sometimes, it can be hard to get details out of companies,” says Purdue’s Nielsen. “Your challenge is to pester your seed dealer and ask for every piece of hybrid performance data you can – and not just recommendations."

Just as a doctor prescribes medicine, seed companies now write prescriptions for seeds.

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