Seeds Are Key to a Successful Season

Even when commodity prices are low, top-end seeds are often worth the investment.
Seeds Are Key to a Successful Season
Same story, different year: Commodity prices are low, with little change expected in the forecast. To make ends meet, some growers may consider rolling the dice and cutting seed costs with lesser-traited products. But they should proceed with caution, notes Dwight Bostwick, Ph.D., head of North America corn breeding projects at Syngenta.

“The cost of seed has definitely increased over the past 10 to12 years,” he says. “Yet seed cost still only represents 15 to 20 percent of the total cost to grow corn or soybeans. Seeds are a small portion of a grower’s total input cost, but they play a vital role in the success of a season.”

To help growers assess the value of soybean varieties and corn hybrids from a research-driven company like Syngenta, Thrive posed the following true-or-false statements to industry experts:

  1. Genetics and plant breeding are the same across all companies.

    False. Joe Byrum, Ph.D., head of soybean product development at Syngenta, says that while other seed companies see plant breeding as an art form, Syngenta views the process as a complex math problem. “We are utilizing first-class, data-driven analytics to identify the best potential outcomes,” he says.

    Each year, breeders start with hundreds of thousands of potential new inbred lines. Like most seed companies, Syngenta selects only 1 percent of these lines to move further through the development cycle. But its data-rich Y.E.S. Yield Engineering System™ speeds up the process and makes it much more efficient and reliable.

    “The Y.E.S. Yield Engineering System replaces some of the luck involved in discovering a new line with science,” Byrum says. “We can use historical data to simulate the outcome of millions of potential choices and select a refined set of results. This accelerated process creates a focused pipeline for breeders and enables them to efficiently determine the genetic potential of superior offspring.”

    Through this process, the annual genetic yield gain of NK® Soybeans has increased to three times the historical annual average yield gain.

    “NK Soybeans continue improving year after year,” says grower Kenneth Wuertz of Cardington, Ohio. “If I compare four years ago when we had decent weather to a more recent year when we had bad weather, the more recent yields are better. It’s clear Syngenta is continuing to boost genetics.”

  2. Any hybrid or variety that makes it to market will perform on my field.

    False. In addition to lacking the strongest genetic backgrounds, lower-priced, less-researched seeds most likely haven’t undergone stringent testing. Syngenta tests its genetics in varying environments for wide-area adaptation and consistency, before offering them to growers commercially.

    “Once Syngenta breeders narrow the set of potential hybrids and varieties, we evaluate that remaining 1 percent under various agronomic practices and environmental conditions over several—at least four—years,” Bostwick says. “We’re searching for consistently high-performing hybrids and varieties across a wide array of environments. But we’re also looking for those hybrids and varieties that can produce ‘racehorse yields’ in a particular geography or environment.”

    Out of hundreds of thousands of potential new hybrids and varieties evaluated each year, only the best—typically a few dozen—make it to market.

    “By the time a hybrid or variety is available for growers to plant in their fields, we know it has wide-area adaptation with local confidence,” Byrum says. “Our products perform well across geographies, but we also can pinpoint exactly where they have the greatest potential to work the absolute best.”

    Syngenta takes a scientific approach to collecting environmental data from targeted geographies, resulting in better placement information. Using this information, Syngenta representatives can select the hybrids and varieties with maximum yield potential and environmental defense for a specific area.

    Grower Charles Homolka of Central City, Nebraska, says he relies on his Syngenta Seed Advisor™ to help him determine which Golden Harvest® corn hybrids to plant on his acres. “He keeps me informed so I have an idea of what yields to expect and what hybrids to plant,” Homolka says. “He lets me know what might be a better fit for my ground.”

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  4. Corn trait stacks can pay off, even in good years.

    True. Traits vary. Some protect plants from pests, like insects. Others optimize a hybrid’s ability to handle stresses, like drought. For traits like these, growers may not see quite as much of an economic benefit in a year when there is limited insect pressure or drought.

    However, Bostwick says, “On average, across multiple years, the benefit of these traits certainly outweighs the cost—even in years without insect pressure or drought.”

    Other traits complement management strategies, such as weed-control or resistance-management programs, by improving efficiency or reducing their overall cost. These trait stacks offer an immediate, in-season advantage for growers year in and year out.

    Syngenta uses optimization tools to speed up the process of integrating traits. That means growers have quicker access to game-changing traits in seeds.

  5. The seller behind the seed makes a real difference.

    True. Yes, a grower can purchase seed from almost anyone who chooses to sell it, but the process can lack important elements. Selecting seed is the most significant decision of the year. An honest, knowledgeable relationship with a trustworthy reseller is important.

    “Our Syngenta Seed Advisor, Ralph Pabst, guides us quite a bit,” says grower Glen Eischen of Springfield, Minnesota. “If the product isn’t going to perform well in our environment, he won’t recommend it for our farm. He’s a great asset to us.”

    Corn and soybean seed selection play vital role in the success of a season.

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    Located in nearby Sanborn, Minnesota, Pabst feels a strong sense of duty to his customers. “I’m proud to be selling Syngenta seeds,” he says. “My customers are my neighbors and friends, and it’s very important to me to get my recommendation right.”

    Pabst is part of an extensive network of Syngenta Seed Advisors and retailers who back NK and Golden Harvest seeds. These advisors and retailers can help growers determine the hybrids and varieties most appropriate for their fields.

    To help with those recommendations, a large team of experts further backs the network. Syngenta sales representatives and agronomists readily offer in-field, local support and expertise to growers. This guides growers to get the best value out of their seed for the greatest returns.

    “NK and Golden Harvest seeds are worth the investment,” says Pabst. “The genetics are second to none, and the trait packages and seed treatments are better than any others you can find. Growers looking to cut costs can be assured that the prices are quite competitive.”