DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- There's been a lot of noise in the chemical, seed and trait marketplace as major agricultural companies explore options to combine businesses.
This past summer and fall, the DTN news team tracked Monsanto's courtship of Syngenta -- only to see the potential relationship fizzle after Monsanto got the cold shoulder and dropped it's $45 billion takeover bid. Since then, there have been speculations about possible mergers with Bayer and BASF. The latest rumors have DuPont wanting to cut deals with Syngenta and Dow Chemical.
Add lack of China acceptance of new trait technologies to the uncertainties facing growers this seed buying season. Syngenta's rootworm trait called Duracade still awaits import approvals and some grain outlets will not accept corn produced from seed containing that trait until China inks the appropriate document. Monsanto and DuPont (and possibly other licensees) offered growers the chance to preorder Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans for 2016 planting, despite the fact EPA has yet to approve the corresponding chemistry. The dicamba-tolerant technology also needs China acceptance.
Today we learned that EPA has pulled back approval of Enlist Duo, the herbicide component of Dow AgroSciences' Enlist Weed Control program. How long it will take for the company to answer questions and get that system back on track is anyone's guess. Oh yeah ... that system still needs those vital China import approvals too.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stated Monday after a meeting in Beijing that China has promised to move quickly to review 11 agricultural biotechnology products that are already under consideration. Last year, a small handful of products gained Chinese approval mid-December -- included in the nod, the long awaited import approval of Viptera, Syngenta's above-ground insect trait.
My head is spinning, but trust that we're watching all of these events carefully and will keep reporting on them because they do matter. Still, despite all these rumors and uncertainties it strikes me that what's really important for growers right now is selecting the right seed for the job.
A year ago, I listened as University of Wisconsin agronomist Joe Lauer talked to Illinois crop consultants and growers about the increasingly complex trait picture and what it means to hybrid selection. At that time, he noted that there are some 7,000 crop traits in company pipelines and only 38 traits deployed so far. In other words ... seed selection decisions are just going to get more complex. One point Lauer made that stuck with me is that to date (intrinsic yield traits are being sought), traits don't add yield, they protect yields.
There are lots of data services and programs emerging to help sort out top hybrids and varieties. I'd like to hear from readers on how they are using these kinds of models and systems to identify the top hybrids for their farm.
Still, for the money (free) one of my favorite go-to sources for corn and soybean hybrid information is the Farmers Independent Research of Seed Technologies, known by most farmers as F.I.R.S.T. group (www.firstseedtests.com). Kevin Coey's company has been working with farmers and independent seed companies since 1997 to identify newly developed and trait-added seed corn and soybean products that perform over multiple locations. They also replicate plots several times within a region.
What I especially enjoy about these reports is they start filling my inbox soon after harvest begins. I look at the various University plot data too, but it comes a little later in the season. Beyond looking at how various trait packages and specific numbers are stacking up, for me, the F.I.R.S.T. data is a quick, early season way to look at yields in different states and monitor inputs used. The company is working in 16 states and while all seed companies don't participate, cooperating farmers are free to choose check hybrid to compare and contrast.
This fall I was riding in a combine with a grower who swung for the fences by dedicating an extraordinarily large percentage of his acreage to a new hybrid that looked good in a 2014 test plot. This year, he figured that number cost him 40 bushels on every acre where it was planted, compared to his other hybrids. As Lauer told me: "Growers take a tremendous gamble making hybrid selection decisions based on last year's yield comparisons in only one or two local test plots."
Ignore the company rumors for now and follow Lauer's formula: Pick hybrids based on multi-location yield averages and evaluate consistency of performance first. Find some unbiased trial data to support your decisions and look at multiple year numbers when possible. It's unlikely you'll have the same growing conditions next year. Yield results from multiple locations over a wide geography demonstrate product performance under a diverse range of growing conditions. Yes, price and other factors such specific pest problems weigh into the equation, but choosing a product that consistently delivers above average performance across a wide geography improve odds of obtaining excellent yields year to year.
You'll find a presentation from Bob Nielsen, Purdue University on choosing hybrids: https://www.agry.purdue.edu/…
Read Joe Lauer's thoughts on hybrid selection here: http://corn.agronomy.wisc.edu/…
Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.firstname.lastname@example.org
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