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Facing tight soybean seed supplies? You're not alone

If you're planning on planting more soybeans this year and want to wait and see what happens in the next few weeks before you nail down more seed, you might want to rethink that approach.

That's the message from soybean industry representatives who say the combination of rough growing conditions in the summer and fall of '07 and a projected increase in soybean acres this spring could yield a tight seed supply situation.

"From a bushel perspective, we were near normal production. The quantity produced wasn't that far off," says Don Schafer, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., senior product line manager for soybeans. "It varies by geography and by maturity. If you look at the North American picture, we're having some supply challenges. This is an industry-wide issue that everybody's facing.

"It's going to be a tough year."

Schafer adds it will likely be Group 3 or later soybean varieties that are in shortest supply this spring.

While she says it's too early to speculate about supply shortages in Monsanto's soybean pipeline, the company's public affairs director Geri Berdak says Monsanto and its partners who market Monsanto seed are, like other companies, preparing the distribution network for shortages.

"We recognize that there might be [shortages], but we're doing what we can," Berdak says. "We're working with Asgrow and other brands to look at the utilization of professionally grown seed and we're looking at distribution so we can ensure it's getting out there to the growers."

Farmers have already felt the effects of these shortages. Many Agriculture Online Crop Talk members say even with their normal acres, they've had difficulty nailing down seed supplies for months already.

"I ordered my seed beans in November and could not get the two new releases from two different seed companies," says Crop Talk member green and yellow. "Buyers take heed -- it looks like more beans will be planted this year."

Geography has a lot to do with whether or not farmers will face a soybean seed shortage or quality issues. Schafer says both weather and acreage shifts in the Southeast, for example, makes seed shortages more likely there. This area is defined as east of the Mississippi River and south of Ohio to Virginia, including the Bootheel of Missouri and Arkansas through Georgia.

"In that southern market, corn acres in 2007 were up nearly 50% from 2006. That's a massive swing down there, and the best we can tell is it's going to go back the other way," Schafer says. "It's very difficult for us to be able to anticipate those swings and be prepared to handle those situations, but that's going to start being the norm. It's now about how we can best manage to handle swiings like that."

In the seed that's available in many areas, Schafer says growers will face some issues with quality, mainly because of the stressful growing conditions in key seed-producing regions last summer and fall. But, the silver lining to this cloud is that drought conditions led to fewer disease pressures, which will likely be carried on through this year's production.

"There really wasn't a lot of disease because the drought conditions almost eliminated that. It's really the stress applied to seed during the growing season that really creates the problem," Schafer says. "The seed quality of soybean production is really dictated by what happens in August and September. We were really impacted significantly during those months by dry weather and high temperatures."

From now until planting, Schafer says it's key that farmers have good communication with their seed dealers and distributors. It won't guarantee the farmer 100% of the soybean seed he or she ordered, but it will go quite a ways to that end.

"If they're going to switch what they think they'll plant, hopefully we've been in contact with them already. They need to contact their sales representative, and the retailer will help them or inform them of supplies," Schafer says. "We try to keep those people as well-informed as possible. We have been trying to inform those people about what we consider industry-wide seed challenges of Group 3 or later since Thanksgiving."

Crop Talk member captron says he placed his seed order months ago, but has stayed in touch with his district sales manager to stay abreast of seed supplies and the acreage-shift situation this year. Even though he bought early, he's still looking at second or third choices now.

"All the numbers I ordered back in September are now sold out, so some will be buying a few notches down, possibly lower-yielding beans," he says. "I was told by my district sales manager that it sounds like most of the guys who planted more corn this year will switch back to the same mix as '06. Me included."

There's always the obvious alternative to planting soybeans. "Plant corn or an alternate crop," Schafer says with a chuckle. "It may be the only other option.

"This situation behooves the customer to make sure to contact his supplier and stay in touch with his planting intentions. With last-minute switches -- around April 15 or May 1 -- growers will be disappointed. At that point, they may not be able to get their first, second or third choice."

If you're planning on planting more soybeans this year and want to wait and see what happens in the next few weeks before you nail down more seed, you might want to rethink that approach.

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