Corn seed might be tight next spring

Rising corn acres and severe drought in the Midwestern United States may crimp supplies of popular corn seed varieties for the coming year.

“It’s really short,” said Ron Rabe, a Dekalb agronomist, who gave a brief talk on corn production in Manitoba at a recent WADO field tour.

Derek Erb, who farms near Oak Bluff and sells Pioneer Hi-Bred corn seed, said farmers looking to secure seed for next spring should act quickly to secure their supplies, even if it means placing orders earlier than usual.

Pioneer Hi-Bred’s top varieties, which include D95 and D97, account for roughly half the acres seeded in the province. Erb said that with the harvest and quality testing still underway in some areas, it’s difficult to estimate how much corn seed will be available for next year.

One thing’s for sure, waiting until Ag Days in January to secure supplies will be too late. “I would pretty much bank on that,” said Erb.

Dry conditions throughout the province have seen the corn harvest arriving about a month earlier than usual, and seed orders have started coming in sooner than usual too.

Even with the possibility of a shortage of corn seed, Erb doesn’t expect the price of Pioneer’s supplies to rise much more than it has in recent years.

Rob Park, of RJP Seeds in Carman, who deals in Hyland seed varieties, said drought in Ontario and the Midwest may have affected seed supplies, but so far only “anecdotal” reports have surfaced regarding some companies.

“We’re going to find out in the next week or so what our seed allocations are,” he said. “But I think it’s pretty early to be talking about a shortage at this point.”

If the market is indeed short and demand is high, many companies will respond by increasing seed production in Southern Hemisphere countries like Chile over the winter, he added.

But he too advised against leaving seed orders too late. “If producers know how many acres they’ll be growing next year, they might want to get on it earlier rather than later,” said Park, adding that he has booked his own seed for next year already.

Catt Corn operator Ron Catt, who grows open-pollinated silage and grazing corn seed on his farm south of Austin, said that his crop this year was one of the best ever.

“We think we’re going to be OK,” said Catt.

Partway through the harvest, he expects his inventory this year to be sufficient. If the big players raise prices to capitalize on the shortage, more farmers might opt for the low-input, non-GMO, non-hybrid, corn seed that he markets as costing $25 per acre.

Morgan Cott, of the Manitoba Corn Growers Association, said a record 270,000 acres of corn were seeded in the province this year, up from 167,000 last year.

This year’s record is likely to be smashed next year, she added.

“If there’s seed, I guess,” said Cott.

Scott Day said the U.S. Midwest traditionally dominates the world record for corn yields, with over 300 bushels per acre. Such astronomical yields come with 40,000 plants per acre, 40 inches of rain per growing season and high heat unit varieties stretching into the 3,600 range.

The terrible yields in that area this year are mainly due to extreme temperatures during the critical pollination phase.

“At 94 F, your heat units start to work against you in the corn business,” said Day.

The Red River Valley continues to dominate corn production, but acres have spread out into other directions. Most of the corn produced in Manitoba stays within the province. The Husky Ethanol plant in Minnedosa is a major user.

Alvin Rapley, a grain buyer for Husky’s Minnedosa plant, said that over the past three years, the raw material mix for producing 130 million litres of ethanol has been composed of 75 per cent corn – roughly 10 million bushels – and 25 per cent wheat.

“If you grow it, we’re certainly interested in buying it,” said Rapley. The ethanol plant requires corn with 15.5 per cent moisture content or less, and bids, currently at $7 per bushel for November delivery, are based on a 53-pound bushel weight.

For every three tons of corn that comes in, one ton of dried distillers grains goes out the other end. All DDGs are marketed under contract by broker Wilbur Ellis.

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