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Farmers Business Network Report Finds Slight Advantage to Traited Seed in Rotated Crops

The yield edge for traits is larger, though, in corn-on-corn.

Farmers Business Network (FBN) has released a new report that the San Carlos, California-based farmer-to-farmer network says measures the performance and payback of traits for corn hybrids and soybean varieties. FBN officials say the report comes from millions of acres of real-world yield and price data generated from within field comparisons from both corn and soybean fields managed by FBN member-farmers from 2009 to 2017 across 28 states. Highlights include:

On average, corn and soybean traits that FBN analyzed generate just a small yield advantage when corn follows a crop other than corn. In these cases, the estimated average yield for traited corn hybrids FBN analyzed ranged from 1.5 to 3.6 bushels per acre over conventional corn hybrids. Stacked hybrids, though, had a larger yield advantage when planted in a corn-on corn environment.

 The FBN report concluded the most expensive trait packages do not necessarily mean farmers will glean the best genetics nor the greatest return on investment (ROI.) Seed prices have risen as new trait technology has entered the market, it points out. Accordingly, FBN officials advise farmers to weigh not only yield when selecting seed, but also seed costs and commodity prices. 

FBN Seed Pricing Report 

FBN first pierced the opaque world of corn and soybean pricing through a 2017 report that was updated in 2018. 

The FBN report found:

  • A significant amount of corn hybrids and soybean varieties share the same genetics. In 2017 and 2018, FBN collected 8,000 seed tags for 4,200 unique seed products sold by 155 seed companies from its 7,000 farmer-members.  
  • Farmers may be overpaying for seed. “The network allows farmers to share price data on seed,” says Charles Baron, cofounder of FBN. “This enables members to see the range of what they are paying for seed products.” 

FBN found prices between brands of the same seed variety may differ significantly. 

On a per-bag basis, FBN found the widest range for corn was $97 that two farmers in the same state paid for the same corn hybrid. (One 80,000-seed bag can plant 2.5 acres at a 32,000-plant-per-acre seeding rate.)

On a per-bag basis, FBN found the widest range for soybeans was $19 that two farmers paid in the same state for the same soybean variety. (One 140,000-seed bag can plant 1 acre at a 140,000-plant-per-acre seeding rate.)  

Last August, FBN unveiled its F2F Genetics Network, which the firm says will bring farmers conventional (nongenetically modified and post-patent seed) in corn, soybeans, and other crops to FBN’s member farms. 

Trait Package and Price Report

Using its network data, FBN analyzed prices of conventional hybrids and varieties to four soybean trait packages and three corn trait packages. The median price per bag paid by FBN farmers was based on more than 25,000 records from seed invoices and price quotes from 2015 to 2018. 

Corn hybrid trait type and median price per bag are as follows: 

  • Conventional (no traits): $169 
  • Glyphosate-tolerant trait: $221
  • European corn borer (ECB)-resistant trait: $245
  • Corn rootworm-resistant trait: $262 

Soybean variety packages and median prices per bag are as follows:   

  • Conventional (no traits): $39
  • Glufosinate-tolerant trait (LibertyLink): $47
  • First-generation glyphosate-tolerant trait: $48 
  • Second-generation glyphosate-tolerant trait (Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield): $50 
  • Glyphosate- and dicamba-tolerant trait (Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Xtend:) $54 

Findings 

On average, corn and soybean traits garnered higher yields than the conventional hybrids in cases where corn was not the previous crop, and also on corn on corn. 

The average yield edge that traited corn hybrids held over conventional corn when corn was not the previous crop were as follows:

  • Glyphosate-tolerant hybrids: 1.5 bushels per acre 
  • Glyphosate-tolerant/ECB resistant hybrids: 3.6 bushels per acre
  • Glyphosate tolerant/ECB- and corn rootworm-resistant hybrids: 2.2 bushels per acre 

The average yield edge that traited hybrids held over conventional corn when corn was the previous crop was as follows: 

  • Glyphosate-tolerant hybrids: 5.3 bushels per acre
  • Glyphosate-tolerant/ECB-resistant hybrids: 6.3 bushels per acre 
  • Glyphosate tolerant/ECB- and corn rootworm-resistant hybrids: 9.5 bushels per acre

The soybean analysis included soybeans preceded by any crop, including soybeans. Soybeans rotated with corn was the most common rotation in the FBN data set. There was insufficient data to break out the soybean analysis by crop rotation. 

The yield edge held by herbicide-tolerant varieties over conventional ones was:

  • Glufosinate-tolerant varieties (LibertyLink). 0.1 bushels per acre
  • First-generation glyphosate varieties: 0.4 bushels per acre
  • Second-generation glyphosate-tolerant varieties (Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield): 1.5 bushels per acre
  • Glyphosate and dicamba-tolerant trait (Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Xtend): 0.9 bushels per acre 

Consider These Seed Selection Factors 

The FBN report states that whether traits pay hinges upon factors like: 

1. Crop rotation.

Any yield advantage seen from traits over conventional varieties can depend on crop rotation. Traits had a larger yield advantage in corn on corn, for example, than when rotated with other crops like soybeans. 

2. Variable management decisions.

The FBN report found that even if a trait package had higher yields than a conventional hybrid, it may not necessarily provide a better overall option for net revenue. Return on investment can hinge upon: 

  • Seed cost
  • Chemical cost
  • Number of herbicide or pesticide applications
  • Commodity price
  • Potential premium and other variable costs

3. Understanding that trait costs alongside seed performance can help farmers optimize seed selection for net revenue, rather than yield alone.

The FBN report concludes that farmers should ask themselves if the expected yield increase with a particular trait technology will outweigh the potential cost increase. 

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