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Seed, chemical deals wait longer than usual

FARGO, N.D. — Seed and chemical sales officials say the uncertainty about crop prices and fertilizer logistics are delaying some seed decisions and purchases.

Keith Rekow, of Langford, S.D., district sales manager for Dairyland Seed Co., figures about 30 to 40 percent of the seed decisions are being left until the last minute. Rekow says colleagues from around the country have been reporting the same thing.

While the pace is different from the past several years, the timing would have been normal 10 to 20 years ago, before the rise of corn and soybeans in the region.

Rekow says with cattle prices high and stable, farmers in those areas have become more aggressive about securing seed for corn silage and for alfalfa production, and for salt-tolerant alfalfa for rehabilitating saline soils. But cash crop farmers are “sitting on the fence.” One of the issues for corn producers is the ability to get fertilizer in a timely fashion. There have been reports of vessels on the West Coast waiting for soybeans, and trains held up moving fertilizer back in this direction.

Continued cold temperatures are a wild card. Rekow says the normal first planting date is around April 20 and farmers are wondering whether the frost will be out by then, and if some cropping could shift to wheat or soybeans.

On the chemical side, experts like Jeff Stachler of Kindred, N.D., northern plains region account manager for post-patent pesticide manufacturer and marketer Willowood USA, says growers, retailers and consultants tell him 2014 is a slower year for pesticide contract completions.

Stachler thinks the two main reasons are reduced commodity prices and farmers looking at how to cut input costs. Farmers often look to crop protectants to economize, but Stachler says the percentage farmers pay for them is a smaller portion of their entire cost of production than it was in the past.

“Today, pesticide is one of the cheaper areas,” Stachler says. “Seed cost has escalated because of biotechnology. Fertilizer has gone up because its use has escalated, as well as scarcity. Crop insurance costs have gone up. Also, people are renting and buying land at considerably higher prices. So pesticide is at the place where it’s not going to affect the bottom line as much as they think.”

A North Dakota State University and University of Minnesota Extension Service weed specialist until a year ago, Stachler gained a reputation as a fighter against weed resistance to pesticides in the region. He says every year is increasingly critical in that struggle.

Weed resistance incidence has been increasing in a “linear” way — percentage increases from year-to-year — but from 2012 to 2013 there are regions of “exponential growth” in multiples.

“If we’re not choosing to do the best in 2014, and ignore it, we could see 10 times more acreage infested with resistant weeds,” Stachler says.

The most important technique in the western Dakotas and Montana is to diversify weed management, which includes rotating crops and employing zero tolerance of weed infestations to eliminate seed production. To maximize herbicide activity, farmers should use more soil-applied pre-emergent herbicides, followed by correct and properly timed post-emergent herbicides. Those applications could cost an extra $5 to $25 an acre, depending on the crops and problematic weeds present.

Stachler says of considerable concern in the west are reports wild oat weeds have become resistant to the ACCase (Group 1) herbicides and ALS (Group 2) herbicides.