For the bulk of its 2004 cotton seed sales, Delta and Pine Land Company will use new packaging based on 250,000 seeds per bag.

“It's a move we've been evaluating for three years or more,” says Randy Dismuke, senior vice president of the Scott, Miss., company.

“We're making the switch because it ties in more effectively with what farmers are doing in the use of precision farming technology. It will enable them to more effectively calculate the number of seed per acre or row foot; it will help them to better manage their seed inventory; and it will help us to better manage our product throughout the pipeline.”

Exceptions, he says, will be the company's Acala and Pima varieties, which will continue to be packaged in standard 50-pound bags. “These varieties have much larger seed and will require different packaging for the 250,000-seed units. Our plan is to change these varieties to the new packaging within the next year or two.”

The move to the new seed-count packaging will also result in additional steps that insure greater quality control and more accurate seed counts, says Charles V. Michell Jr., vice president of U.S. operations.

“Sampling is now done at four different stages — (1) when bulk fuzzy seed is introduced into the process, (2) at the ‘black seed’ stage (the seed is delinted but untreated), (3) at the intermediate treating/counting process, and (4) at the final packing/weighing stage.”

This results in another round of quality checking that didn't exist previously, Dismuke notes, insuring accuracy of seed counts “and that we're putting the best quality seed possible into our bags.”

The heart of the new system is a machine with a bank of 36 photoelectric cells that counts the number of seeds it takes to reach a set weight — usually 2 pounds to 5 pounds — and then uses that count to calculate the seeds per pound for the lot being processed.

It can count from 1 pound to 3 pounds per minute. A computer terminal keeps track of variety, count, treatment, weight, and other key information, which is ink jet-printed on the bag as it comes off the packaging line.

“We've tested the system extensively, and the seed count is extremely precise,” Michell notes.

Six different bag sizes are used to allow for variations in density of the various seed genetic types.

“If a bag's too full, it's subject to bursting in the shipping and handling process,” Dismuke notes. “If it's not full enough, it's like the potato chip bag from the grocery store. We don't want producers wondering if a bag actually has 250,000 seed, so we match the bags to seed size and weight.”

For good measure, each bag will be filled with an extra 1 percent to 2.5 percent, depending on variety. “We want to be sure that the farmer gets full value in every bag.”

As the bags are filled, they pass over a weighing scale. Any underweight bags are kicked out.

“Variations in seed size and weight are taken into consideration throughout the process to be sure we stay within a standard bag weight range,” Michell notes.

“With our average seed size, an average bag of 250,000 seed will be approximately 50 pounds. But the range can be from 38 pounds to 65 pounds, depending on variety, seed size, and seed weight.

“A lot of producers are planting 45,000 to 50,000 seed per acre; with a 250,000-count bag, they can plant 5 acres to 5.5 acres per bag. It's a unit size that works effectively for the farmer and for us.”

A patent is pending on the process, Michell says.

Dismuke says Delta and Pine Land did a survey in 2003 that included growers and distributors, “and all the comments regarding our plans for the 250,000-seed packaging were very favorable. At meetings and conferences, I've talked with many producers, and their comments have been uniformly positive about the change. They say it will help them to better manage their seed and technology costs.”

Delta and Pine Land now has five of the photocell counting lines in operation, packing seed for the 2004 crop: one at the Scott plant; two at its Hollandale, Miss. plant; and one each at Aiken, Texas, and Eloy, Ariz.