By Brian Hefty

It’s 2 days before you want to plant your corn.  You call your seed dealer.  He says, “Sorry, but your seed hasn’t shown up yet.”  Now what?

I’ve been around the seed industry for 30 years and the farm longer than that.  Remembering back through all those years, I don’t remember seed corn in as bad a supply situation as this year.  Here are the 5 key factors I believe have led us to where we are today:

  1. Corn profitability looks pretty good right now.  I’ve talked to many farmers who believe corn will be more profitable than soybeans or wheat this year.  That’s why they’re upping their corn acreage.  On our farm, we’re not increasing our corn acres.  Part of the reason is this – when everyone else goes one way, going the other way usually turns out pretty well.  What I’m hoping for is a great price for soybeans and wheat about 12 months from now when I want to sell a good portion of my 2012 crop.
  2. No major seed company wants to take big risks.  30 years ago, most seed companies were owned by private individuals.  If they made a mistake, they lost money.  Then they learned from that and tried harder the next year.  Now that large corporations own the seed companies, shareholders or boards of directors often choose to fire the person responsible for big mistakes.  What this means for you and me is no more oversupply of seed.  No company executive, in my opinion, wants to risk producing too much.
  3. Seed germination scores this year have been horrible.  Last year was awful in most areas for seed production.  Even experienced seed producers saw certain seed lots fail.  Plus, as the winter has gone on (a warm winter, by the way, which is terrible for storing seed) seed germinations have continued to drop.  Seed lots that may have been good last fall are now showing up bad.
  4. Plant breeders are producing great new hybrids faster than ever.  You would think this would be an advantage, but this year it’s not.  New varieties yield better, so everyone wants them.  The problem is new varieties have little supply.  On top of that, if you were a seed company, would you want to produce a whole bunch of an old number when you know the new varieties are better?  Of course not.
  5. South American production may arrive in the U.S. too late.  If we have an early spring, I believe there is little chance that South American seed will be here in time.  It rarely makes it to the Dakotas and Minnesota by mid-April, so I don’t know why this year will be any different.

The reason why I’m explaining all this is many seed companies are trying as hard as they can to fill your orders.  The seed you want just isn’t there.  However, there are other varieties that are available.  I believe there will be enough seed corn in the U.S. to plant 100 million corn acres.  It’s going to come down to this – do you want the seed corn that IS available or would you rather plant another crop, like soybeans?

Also, you’ll probably get mad about this when you don’t get your seed.  Right now I can almost guarantee you there isn’t one happy seed corn company or seed corn dealer in the U.S.  Everyone has been affected by this.  Every company has angry investors and stockholders.  It’s a major issue.  Just do your best to remain calm.  Take the emotion out of it so you can make a good decision for your farm.  Don’t give in on things like Goss’s Wilt tolerance, if that’s an issue for you.  If the only reason you’ve picked the variety you did was because it yielded well last year in a couple of plots, that’s when I’d switch with no problem at all.  Year after year we find that last year’s winners are often this year’s losers and vice versa.  Again, don’t get emotional.  Just think through what you really need and what you don’t.  Good luck!