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Published February 25, 2013, 09:53 AM

Corn seed firms rely on winter production

The corn seed industry will be challenged to meet demand schedules in 2013 and 2014, but it will rely more on South American winter production, according to an industry official who spoke at the North Dakota CornVention in Fargo on Feb. 20.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — The corn seed industry will be challenged to meet demand schedules in 2013 and 2014, but it will rely more on South American winter production, according to an industry official who spoke at the North Dakota CornVention in Fargo on Feb. 20.

Carryover corn seed inventories are very low because of two back-to-back drought years, says Ron S. Nelson, northern genetics manager for Thurston Genetics of Olivia, Minn., a division of BASF Plant Science.

Nelson, a native of Fertile, Minn., and an agronomy graduate of North Dakota State University, licenses corn genetics to seed companies. The bulk of U.S. corn seed production is in the U.S., but the seed companies this year are relying more on winter seed production in Argentina and Chile because of the drought in the U.S.

Argentina provides most of the long-season varieties for the main Corn Belt, Nelson says. Some of Argentina’s winter production acres were lost to water, and some were lost because male-female “niching” didn’t happen efficiently. About 20,000 gross acres of seed production from Argentina are destined for the U.S. this year.

Meanwhile, Chile supplies U.S. markets in the north, where acreage and yields have increased in the past few years.

Nelson notes that this past year, North Dakota ranked eighth in total bushels among the 41 corn states. “You had a tremendous year, doubling from the average of 2008 to 2011,” Nelson says. The state’s 2012 corn yields increased to 122 bushels per acre, while drought-stricken Illinois “tanked” with an average of 105 bushels per acre, Nelson says.

He says the logistics from winter production areas are complicated.

“Four million bags have to come home between now and planting through the Panama Canal,” Nelson says, of Chile production. “It has to get processed, get tested and shipped back out to you for planting. There’s an incredible challenge ahead. We’re a little bit behind — always rain, something happening. The big thing about it is it always gets done every year. There’ll be some that doesn’t make it, but for the most part, we’re on track to get it done.”

Nelson sees a bottleneck at the handling facilities with the amount of corn needed for 2013 production. It takes time to get it bagged, prepared and shipped out, and unexpected problems can come up, he says.

If U.S. corn acres grow to 100 million in 2013 from last year’s 97 million, it will require a total of 37 million bags of seed. To replenish a comfortable carryover inventory for 2013, the U.S. should raise about 40 to 45 million bags of seed this year.

“That’s 900,000 seed acres,” Nelson says “I don’t know if there’s enough parent seed to do it. I don’t know if there’s enough facilities to process it. It’s a huge challenge.”

Look for colder years

“Last year is just not going to happen that often in North Dakota, right?” Nelson asked his audience, referring to the early spring planting and late fall. “That’s an atypical year. We’re going to have to experience colder weather and shorter seasons unless Iowa conditions move here — which some think they are.”

He says farmers need to evaluate whether the “products” go on certain high-, medium- or low-producing soils. Disease issues aren’t as big a factor in the north as they are in the traditional Corn Belt, and spray solutions are available for some of the diseases.

Stalk and root issues also are important to northern corn growers. “You guys have beans, sugar beets and corn, and I guarantee your corn will be one of the last things you take out (of the field) probably,” Nelson says. “Last year, I saw corn coming out before beans: not typical. Typically, the corn is going to have to stand (longer). You need something with good stalk and root to tolerate the late (harvest) season.”

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