Seeking sun: Late spring could shift seed maturities

NEW EFFINGTON, S.D. -- Many farmers in the eastern Dakotas face the decision of whether to change out longer-season corn varieties for shorter-season varieties, seedsmen say.

Pioneer’s refuge-in-a-bag includes the purple “refuge” seeds that don’t include the Bt characteristics. Photo taken May 9, 2014, in rural New Effington, S.D. (Agweek/Mikkel Pates)

NEW EFFINGTON, S.D. - Many farmers in the eastern Dakotas face the decision of whether to change out longer-season corn varieties for shorter-season varieties, seedsmen say.

Joe Fritz, an independent, contracted seed representative for Pioneer since 2010, is working in one of the region’s wetter spots. His company, JFS Inc. in New Effington, S.D., handles the seed needs of about 90 customers in a 15-mile radius, handling both corn and soybeans.

Precipitation rankings for the area from April 1 to May 6 are 125 to 150 percent of historical norms, according to state climatologists in Minnesota and South Dakota. Another inch fell May 12 and 13, putting total rainfall at more than 5 inches since the start of planting. Just across the border into North Dakota, some of Fritz’s customers had received up to 6.25 inches of precipitation since April 13.

When Agweek stopped at JFS on May 9, the temperature was in the low 50s, and not delivering the conditions for needed drying. Fritz estimated that only 5 percent of the planned corn acreage was planted. Fertilizer application was in the same boat. Fritz planted his 2013 test plot on May 10, and this year, he put his first plot in on May 7. On May 13, he said he still had three more plots to plant.



By May 20

Martin Johnson, a Pioneer account manager who handles Fritz’s region from his base in Watertown, S.D., says initially planned hybrid maturities for corn might be able to hold until May 15, or May 20 at the very latest.

“Last year, we didn’t get in and get planted until May 12 or 13 and we had good results - good dry-down of crops in the fall. If guys can hold their maturities, they’re probably going to be better off getting their planned products, to put into the ground instead of substituting. I would say at this point, guys are going to be shifting maturities,” Johnson says.

“Some of those 100-day zones are probably going to back down to the 95-day maturities. If they’re in a 95-day zone, they might back down to 92- or 90-day maturity, or switch over to beans all together.”

Fritz cites one customer who is switching 150 bags of long-day corn to beans. A bag is 80,000 seeds.

“That’s a pretty big switch because every bag is 2.3 acres per bag of corn.

“But if everybody switches, it’s a little bit of a challenge for us to logistically handle it,” Johnson says. “It happens so fast that it’s a matter of timing to get everything changed around, it takes a little bit of time to do that.”



A challenge

Farmers in northern South Dakota and into North Dakota have been battling frost.

Even on May 9, frost was still coming out on the side hills, Johnson says.

“There’s spots where it’s coming out from both (top and bottom) but we need sunlight and we need heat,” he says.

As the longer-maturity corn seed products for the north free up - say, 92- and 93-day hybrids - Pioneer moves them farther south, and the longer-season 97- to 100-day hybrids from the northern South Dakota area can be moved, where late-planting farmers to the south still may need them. Going from 95- to 92-day corn, loses 1.5 to two bushels of potential yield per acre, according to a Pioneer agronomist.

Fritz installed an on-demand system. It takes each one of the chemistries of the seed treatment and mixes them as they go into the treater, rather than premixing everything. It’s a closed system, cutting the risk of spills and contamination. He replaced another system that was treating at 1,600 pounds per minute, and now can do 1,800 pounds per minute.

This will be a year for seed treatment, Fritz says. “With the colder weather and colder ground temperatures, seed is more susceptible to soil diseases. The longer seed is in the ground, the more fungicide is important.”



NASS state reports

Here are National Agricultural Statistics Service planting summaries for the four-state area for the week prior to the May 12 report:

  • South Dakota: 3.6 days suitable for fieldwork, with below-average temperatures in all but the southwest part of the state. Topsoil moisture is 81 percent adequate and 9 percent surplus; subsoil, 84 percent adequate and 4 percent surplus. Planting progress percentages: spring wheat, 74 percent planted, compared with 83 percent for a five-year average; oats, 74 planted, 80 percent average; barley, 50 percent planted, 68 percent average; sorghum, 2 percent planted, equal to average.

Corn was 52 percent planted, ahead of both last year’s 33 percent on this date and the average of 43 percent. Soybeans were 14 percent planted, 9 percent average; sorghum, 2 percent planted.

  • North Dakota: 1.6 days of fieldwork, with temperatures 4 to 8 degrees below long-term averages, and soil temperatures 38 to 45 degrees. Topsoil moisture was 66 percent adequate and 33 percent surplus before rain May 12 and 13.

Sugar beet planting was 8 percent complete, compared with last year’s 36 percent and a 57 percent average for the date. Corn planting was 3 percent complete, behind 16 last year and the 33 percent five-year average.
Spring wheat was 11 percent planted, compared with 23 percent last year and a 39 percent average. Only 1 percent of the spring wheat had emerged, compared with a 19 percent average. Durum wheat is 1 percent planted, compared with 10 percent last year and a 23 percentfive-year average.

Dry peas are 6 percent planted compared with zero last year and a 36 percent average; canola, 2 percent planted, 10 percent last year, 26 percent average.

Winter wheat condition declined slightly with 2 percent very poor, 18 percent poor, 38 percent fair, 40 percent good and 2 percent excellent.

  • Minnesota - 2.5 days suitable for fieldwork. Topsoil moisture was 60 percent adequate and 40 percent surplus.

Corn planting moved ahead to 31 percent complete - up 23 percent on the week - compared with 16 percent last year and 62 percent average for the date. Soybeans are 4 percent planted, compared with a 23 percent average.
Sugar beet planting was 9 percent complete, up only 7 percent from the previous week, and significantly less than last year’s 43 percent and the five-year average of 63 percent at this date.

Barley was 9 percent planted, compared with a 50 percent average; spring wheat, 8 percent planted, 53 percent average.


  • Montana - four days suitable for fieldwork. Sugar beet seeding is 91 percent complete, ahead of 29 percent last year and the 67 percent average for the date.

Spring wheat, 51 percent planted, 56 percent average; durum, 23 percent, 36 percent average; barley, 73 percent planted, 64 percent average; canola, 46 percent planted, 48 percent average; corn, 34 percent planted, 43 percent average; flax, 13 percent planted, 31 percent average; lentils, 41 percent planted, 59 percent average.
Winter wheat is ranked 62 percent good to excellent, about the same as the five-year average.

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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