Production Blog
Pam Smith DTN\Progressive Farmer Crops Technology Editor

Friday 06/29/12

Seed Executive Eyes Hot Temps

ATLANTA, IND. (DTN) -- Baby, it's hot outside, but row after row of seed corn bags coolly wait out the sizzle inside a giant air-conditioned warehouse in rural Indiana.

Seed produced in South America sits in cold storage as a hedge against a short seed 2012 crop at Beck's Hybrids headquarters near Atlanta, Ind. (DTN photo by Pamela Smith)

Beck's Hybrids opened its Atlanta, Ind., company headquarters to media earlier this week. In an interview with DTN, Sonny Beck revealed that the company purposefully overplanted in South America last winter -- attempting to hedge bets that this season might also deliver a short crop.

"Last year the (seed) industry on average had about a 60% crop and we were about the same," said Beck.

"We went to winter production to get a few hybrids to bolster that, but we also increased what we needed by 10%. We didn't want to go into the 2013 year with such a tight supply."

Beck said the fact that the company is family-owned and doesn't have to answer to stockholders is an advantage when it comes to such decisions. This spring, the company further added to the seed supply cushion by planting twice their normal production and by widening their production area into multiple states.

"That (doubling) was close to doable until about a week ago," Beck said. The company's seed production area in the Atlanta, Ind., area has been particularly short on rainfall and the high temperatures this week has hurt prospects -- although central Indiana did see some rainfall June 29.

"We also spread planting date(s) from the first week of April through the last week of June. Eight full weeks of planting should help spread some of our risk," he added.

Almost all of the company's seed production on lighter soils is irrigated.

"Heat is what kills the crop," Beck said. "We have enough irrigation and we have enough soils with water holding capacity to have 2/3rds of a crop if it didn't rain again, but it will be heat that kills us. It was heat that killed us last year."

The veteran seedsman said seed corn is more vulnerable to heat than commodity corn. "In seed production, we only have 10 to 15% as much pollen in the field and if temperatures hit 95 to 100 degrees, we don't get pollination.

"Most of the industry has irrigation to take care of the water situation. If we have as much heat as we did last year, it could be a short crop again this year," he said. Beck said in general, corn prefers 86 degree temperatures with around a 20 degree drop in nighttime temperatures.

Beck has less concern about heat when it comes to soybean seed production. "We normally plan for 30% to 40% more soybean acres than expected sales. This always covers needs," he reported.

"Soybeans pollinate over a six-week period on any given plant. Corn only has a two-week pollination period on any given plant. It's much easier to get a week of good pollinating weather during a six-week window than a two-week window," he said.

Moisture remains a critical input with soybeans, but the company mitigates risk by growing beans over different environments and regions.

Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.smith@telventdtn.com

Posted at 7:19PM CDT 06/29/12 by Pam Smith
Comments (8)
One question that a number of people have that hasn't been really answered is whether the use of male sterility in hybrid seed corn production has contributed to the problem. And (even more concerning) if the commercial corn itself has reduced pollen potential as well. Many farmers I know who scout fields feel the level of pollen production is less (recent years) than in the past. Not a good thing to have with the heat and crop stress in the country. Will we discover this to be a really bad thing? Time will tell.
Posted by notilltom at 2:30PM CDT 07/06/12
Edit of prior comment: I know male sterility is to reduce the need for detasseling. The question is whether there is more sterility in the system than in the past and if that will haunt us.
Posted by notilltom at 2:34PM CDT 07/06/12
Good question. I'll ask around and get back to you!
Posted by Pamela Smith at 4:50PM CDT 07/08/12
notilltom--here's a response to your question from the research manager at Beck's Hybrids. "Is there more sterility now versus in the past and is it affecting pollination in seed production and commercial corn? The question is difficult to answer because in the seed production industry there are several different sterility systems used. In the past few years, the biggest factor affecting pollination, whether in seed production or commercial corn, has been due to the significant environmental extremes. It is interesting to note that a decade ago when top cross/high oil hybrids were popular, 90 percent of the seed in the bag was completely sterile and only 10 percent was fertile. There is such a high volume of pollen produced, only 10 percent of fertile plants was needed to achieve maximum yield.
Posted by Pamela Smith at 4:05PM CDT 07/14/12
Its like the "old" response, "Its hard to say" ?
Posted by Unknown at 1:04PM CDT 07/16/12
There is less male sterility used now for seed production than in the past. The farmers noticing less pollen production in their fields most likely have hybrids with smaller tassels or less anthers per tassel. That has been a trend in many of today's hybrids. To select hybrids that have the most tolerance for stress look for the following traits: fast emergence, strong early vigor to canopy quickly, early flowering for maturity, high ears to plant ratio, pollen shed and silking starting on the same day, high stay green ratings. When you can put together these traits the odds are that you will have also picked up nitrogen use efficency.
Posted by Ed Baumgartner at 5:16AM CDT 07/18/12
Thanks Ed. Would you also include tassel size and anthers per tassel in your list of traits for selection? As someone working in plant breeding, do you consider amount of pollen being produced to be a concern?
Posted by Pamela Smith at 9:47PM CDT 07/27/12
Pollen production is a concern but at the end of the list above since it usually acompanies these traits. If a hybrid has 100 percent fertility is a more important question for a farmer to ask a seed vendor when purchasing a hybrid for stress areas.
Posted by Ed Baumgartner at 4:56AM CDT 08/01/12
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