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17 ways farmers can select 2023 seed in an inflationary era

Farmers can survive — and even thrive — in this environment. We’ve scoured 17 ways farmers may better select seed in this inflationary era.

Remember the 1985 movie classic Back to the Future? That theme could sum up what farmers will face for 2023 crop input prices that include seed. The 1970s lava lamps and leisure suits of your parent’s and grandparent’s day may not return, but the inflated prices they faced are here. Granted, the prices farmers pay for 2023 corn and soybean seed will vary between hybrids and varieties, but they likely will pay more for corn and soybean seed than in years past.

“Inflation is on everyone’s mind,” adds Marc Hoobler, northern region agronomy lead for BASF. “Everyone’s cost of production is going up. There are supply chain issues. Labor shortages exist. As in every other industry, there’s a strong relationship between costs and pricing.”

Good news exists. “Luckily, we’ve seen increases in commodity prices [on a historical basis] that help offset some of this,” says Bruce Battles, Syngenta technical agronomy manager. 

Good news also exists on the seed supply front — so far.

“Mother Nature always has the final say, but from a risk-mitigation standpoint, we have several strategies in place to ensure supply to the best of our ability,” says Hoobler. 

“We have contingencies in place to account for labor short - ages. We do many shipments in bulk, and that helps reduce our cost, particularly from a packaging standpoint and ensuring timely deliveries.”

Farmers can survive — and even thrive — in this environment. We’ve scoured 17 ways farmers may better select seed in this inflationary era. 

1. Corn looks good, but don’t ignore soybeans

Although some farmers can add sorghum and wheat to the mix, the most lucrative crops for many farmers are corn and soybeans. The split between the two hinges upon profit outlook. 

April 2022 calculations by Gary Schnitkey, Krista Swanson, Nick Paulson, and Jim Baltz, University of Illinois (U of I) agricultural economists, and Carl Zulauf, an Ohio State University (OSU) agricultural economist, g ave corn the 2022 nod. Predicted farmer return per acre of corn was $365 for highly productive central Illinois land, compared with $179 per acre for soybeans.

Still, matters can change in the following months. Don’t discount soybeans. The U of I and OSU economists remind farmers that corn has higher nitrogen fertilizer price and supply risks compared with soybeans. 

“We’re also seeing a surge in double-crop soybeans [in west-central Illinois], due to favorable economics for both soybeans and previously planted winter wheat,” says Stephanie Porter, Golden Harvest soybean product manager. “Farmers are also learning that they can gain yield by planting soybeans earlier in cooler weather.” 

2. Input spurs output

Higher 2023 seed prices aren’t fun. Still, seed is one of your most important inputs to get output.

“A soybean variety that gives you a 2-bushel [per acre] yield advantage gives $30 per acre increased revenue if soybeans are priced at $15 per bushel,” says Ryan Fuller, head of soybean strategic marketing at Syngenta. “If that variety costs just $8 more per acre, that nets $22 more profit per acre.”

3. Access discounts

Early-order discounts can help ease seed price concerns. Still, it’s a balancing act. 

“You may get an early-season discount without having a chance to fully evaluate a variety,” Hoobler says. 

The good news? Farmers may access many early-order discount programs without having to select a certain variety. 

“You can prepay to take advantage of a discount, with variety selection coming later,” Hoobler says. 

4. You get what you pay for

“Price is a difficult conversation,” says Isaac Anderson, WinField United technical seed agronomist, “but I do believe that in our industry, you get what you pay for. Our newest and latest and most elite genetics that are priced the highest are also our most durable products. If you look at our geography through Minnesota and the Dakotas, we sustained significant periods of drought last year. Yet, our yields were only down 10% to 15% in those areas. Hybrids from 10 to 20 years ago probably would have yielded about half of what they did last year.” 

5. Don’t be a wet blanket

“The blanket approach to managing all fields the same probably isn’t going to work in this [inflationary] environment,” says Syngenta’s Battles. Instead, he advises scouting a farm on a field-by-field basis to decipher specific fertility, seed emergence, pests, and other agronomic factors. This can enable farmers to fine-tune specific management strategies for each field going forward, he adds.

Making notes from the combine cab during harvest can also help assess 2023 seed selection, says Brent Tharp, Wyffels Hybrids agronomy and product training manager. “You’ll be able to better see what’s going on with harvestability and standability,” he says. 

6. Shake it up

Pests love predictability. Thus, repeated use of a control measure spawns resistance. 

“We’ve all been guilty in the past of the ‘silver bullet syndrome,’ where we keep riding the same trait until it no longer works,” says Syngenta’s Battles. “Adopt a mentality of shaking things up every year.”

For example, switching to a different corn rootworm-resistant trait and/or using it in combination with a soil-applied insecticide in 2023 can forestall trait resistance in rootworm-infested fields, Battles says. 

There’s more good news, too. Rotating corn with soybeans still nixes corn rootworm in many fields. Thus, farmers can direct money meant to buy a hybrid with a corn rootworm-resistant trait or a soil-applied insecticide elsewhere, he says. 

7. Reject recency bias

It’s easy to be dreamy eyed about last year’s hybrid or variety that filled your bins to the brim. Still, save that lovin’ feeling for your spouse. What you’re experiencing is recency bias, which poorly predicts seed performance, says Andy Heggenstaller, head of agronomy, U.S. seeds for Syngenta. 

“If hybrid A does tremendously well or poor on your farm this year, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen again next year,” he says. “Next year will be different than 2022, just as 2022 was different than 2021.” 

8. Mull over multiples

Shawn Conley, a University of Wisconsin Extension agronomist, gets why farmers do on-farm research.

“They want to see how these varieties work on their farms,” he says. 

However, this leads to data that reflects just one year and one environment. It gives little insight into the next year’s conditions. 

“Last year, many farmers I work with [in Wisconsin] had planted all their corn and soybean by May 1,” says Conley. “This year, they hadn’t even turned a wheel on that date. What I advise farmers to look for is yield stability over multiple environments.”

Finding such data is challenging, as soybean varieties sometimes only stay on the market a couple of years before they’re off the seed market. However, farmers can detect a yield stability pattern even when a variety’s time window is tight, Conley adds. 

9. Match seed to management

“Genetic performance can differ based on management practices,” says Cynthia Ericson, vice president for U.S. marketing, Corteva Agriscience. Some corn hybrids, for example, may fare better in corn-on-corn scenarios than others.

It’s the same story for fertilizer placement, adds Battles. Syngenta has conducted trials examining hybrid response to fertilizer placement.

“Banding fertilizer [at planting] and broadcasting fertilizer in a fall application are two different scenarios,” he says. “We want to identify those hybrids that respond to more precise placement, and those where the type of placement makes no difference.” 

10. Match seed to field maladies

This mix-and-match scenario also applies to fields infested with maladies such as soybean cyst nematode. 

“Soybean cyst nematode makes those second, third, fourth, and fifth diseases in a field worse,” says Daren Mueller, Iowa State University Extension plant pathologist. For example, SCN root piercing makes it easier for the sudden death syndrome (SDS) fungus to infect soybean roots, he adds. 

The good news is that SDS doesn’t occur each year. SDS is rooted in cool and wet springs when the soilborne fungus Fusarium virguliforme infects roots as early as one week after crop emergence. In August, the infected plants exhibit the trademark symptoms of chlorotic and crinkled leaves.

“You don’t aways have to have visual symptomology to be losing 2 to 4 bushels per acre from SDS,” says U of W’s Conley. 

Good news exists, though. Besides fungicidal seed treatments, variety selection can deter SDS. 

“Companies have done a much better job of bringing SDS tolerance into their germplasm,” says Conley. 

11. Be bold with white mold

White mold is a nemesis for Upper Midwesterners, such as Keith Schrader. When weather permits, the Nerstrand, Minnesota, farmer teams April soybean planting with 15-inch rows. 

“We want to close that canopy as quickly as possible to better control weeds,” he says

The downside is an airtight canopy that enables white mold to thrive. Schrader balances this by planting the remaining 65% or so of his soybean acres in 30-inch rows. 

“We put those soybeans planted in 30-inch rows on some really good ground where the beans take off right away and establish a canopy early,” he says. 

Long term, he plans to switch to 20-inch rows to establish quick canopy while still enabling air to circulate to deter white mold. 

“We also have a corn/corn/soybean rotation, which helps reduce white mold problems,” he says. 

12. Squeeze (& raise) seeding rates

One way to slice seed costs is to slice populations. However, make sure population decreases occur in the right field area. 

Van Larson, a Rochester, Minnesota, crop consultant, has built population prescriptions based on yield, elevation, and soil test data for Keith Schrader’s farm. In these models, variable corn and soybean population rates head different directions.

“In low areas with good water-holding capacity, we increase populations for corn,” he says. “Of course, those are ideal conditions for white mold and other soybean diseases. In these cases, we lower soybean populations significantly. Instead of the baseline 140,000 seeds per acre population, we plant 110,000 to 120,000 seeds per acre in those low areas. On higher gravely knolls, we increase populations up to 160,000 seeds per acre.”

13. Que up quality

Germination and accelerated aging scores are great ways to assess soybean quality, says BASF’s Hoobler. 

“We target 90% to 95% germination for our seed lots,” he says. 

Accelerated aging tests a seed’s vigor and its ability to quickly emerge.

“Typically, we like to see accelerated aging scores in the 70s,” says Hoobler. “This can help soybeans emerge better under stressful conditions. If it gets below that, it can have a big impact on vigor.”

Visually inspect seed coats to assess quality, too. A cracked seed coat indicates quality problems, he adds.

14. Hire help to decipher data

Numerous digital tools exist to help farmers select seed and other inputs. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, though. 

“I’m a horseshoes-and-hand grenade guy,” says Kelly Garrett, an Arion, Iowa, farmer. “My crop consultant, Mike Evans, forces me to slow down and use data to evaluate products. I like to chase yield, but evaluating products on a return-on-investment basis is more valuable.”

“There are a lot of good digital platforms out there,” says Wyffels Hybrids’ Tharp. “Before wholeheartedly trusting algorithm-generated recommendations, though, test them first. Some of them go down different avenues that may not be what a farmer needs.”

15. Go long with soybean varieties

In general, yields of long-maturing soybean varieties exceed those of medium- and earlymaturing varieties, notes Hoobler

“Planting a late-maturing variety that’s adapted for an area will give a farmer opportunity to add yield,” he says. “Sometimes, that’s not the case, though, especially as you move north. You don’t want to plant too long of a maturing variety because you can run into an early freeze and then you’re really in trouble.”

16. Go long for hybrids, too

“There’s still a trend to higher yields with fuller season maturities,” says Justin Welch,  Syngenta digital product manager.

That’s why many northern Illinois farmers have shifted from corn with relative maturities of 105 days to 110 days, adds Judd Maxwell, Syngenta corn product placement manager. 

“They’re now planting 110-day corn because they can harvest more yield in the same period of time,” Maxwell says. 

However, this move increases the risk of an early fall frost spurring wet and immature corn, adds Maxwell. Thus, the move toward longer corn maturities hinges upon the drying capacity a farmer has, he adds.

17. Look at lodging

Early planting can also encourage soybeans to grow taller during the growing season, says Golden Harvest’s Porter. 

“This can increase the odds of lodging, particularly when planted at higher populations in productive soils,” she says. “If lodging occurs at the beginning of seed fill, yields will suffer.

Selecting a shorter variety that has a good lodging score or backing off populations can help slice lodging odds, she adds.

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