Typically, soybean seed can only be held for a short time. While corn and milo seed can be carried from year to year and still remain viable, soybean seed cannot. With soybeans, you have a one-year shot. This year, for a variety of reasons, seed dealers and several company representatives spoken to for this story think some soybean varieties could get tight. Among the reasons cited:
The year started out with fewer seed acres. Why? Because last year many seed companies had soybean seed left over. Those seed companies trimmed seed acres in order to get in line with demand.
The weather at harvest was terrible. That means farmer-saved seed will be next to nothing in many areas. And few account for that market.
“I spoke with a fellow the other day who normally conditions 10,000 bushels of beans. This year, he has fewer than 500 bushels. Another farmer — yet another big conditioner — says he has 25 percent of the beans he had last year. I think that will lead to a section of the farming community buying soybean seed that no one is prepared for,” says one Delta seed rep.
Many seed companies have culled seed as it's come in. Reports are that some of that seed hasn't been good and that some seed companies on the East Coast aren't bagging half the soybean seed they normally do. Quality seed just isn't available.
“Look, around this time pretty much every year, you start hearing things about soybean seed getting tight,” says Alan Blaine, Mississippi Extension soybean specialist. “The best varieties — just because they're in so much demand — are always going to be tighter. I think there will be seed out there. But most of the varieties that are available, I'd rather somebody else have to plant.
“I've talked to a couple of seed company reps that are saying some areas of the East Coast won't be bagging a seed. What that'll likely mean is some of the Mid-South supply will be drawn off. You can't blame the companies — they're just trying to meet as many customer demands as possible.”
Another thing to consider is that people in Arkansas who raise seed for big companies tend to farm-store that seed and then take it into headquarters throughout the season.
Normally, what happens is this: some beans are cut early and put in the bin at 12 or 13 percent moisture. But this year, farmers were delayed a few weeks in harvest. It's suspected that some growers, trying to salvage the situation, jumped the gun and cut beans at higher moisture levels with a view to blending them.
But seed reps tell Delta Farm Press that it's a huge gamble for a grower to cut a bean at over 15 percent moisture. “If you take a sample at harvest, germs will be okay. But if you're not careful, fall heat can get to those high-moisture beans and germ will then drop like a rock.”
“Two things that hurt a bean's germination are humidity and heat. Once a bean goes into a bin at high moisture, heat will cook the germination out of it,” says another rep.
In the Midwest, farmers grow a lot of soybeans — especially late Group 3s and Group 4s — but they had a drought. Illinois soybean farmers had a particularly terrible summer to deal with. Word out of the Midwest is much of the soybean seed are small and being culled for poor quality.
Seed in the Delta wasn't spared. When the two tropical storms went through Louisiana and Mississippi — a situation further compounded when rain seemed to hang around like a bad houseguest — soybean seed was badly hurt.
“All the weather we had has taken a toll on seed overall. With growers talking about increasing acres, we could be looking at a tight soybean seed supply,” says Lannie Ashlock, former Arkansas Extension soybean specialist and currently an employee of Cullum Seed.
Ashlock says the consensus among those he has spoken with “seems to be that there will be areas that will be short of soybean seed. I think there's quite a lot missing out of the Southeast and up the Eastern Coast. Not a lot of seed comes our way from that direction. But who knows? In the end, it may end up shorting some seed in the Delta. I doubt that happens, but it could.”
Some are saying that seed in Missouri and southern Illinois may also be short, says Ashlock. “I think we're fortunate at Cullum Seed that we got our seed in and are in good shape. Some other companies — especially if they're pulling seed from fields south of Stuttgart, Ark. — could be looking at big problems. The quality of soybean seed that stayed out in the field for any time undoubtedly suffered. It's warm enough down there to work the seed quality over. And grain quality will suffer in those conditions as well.”
If seed reps are saying there could be a seed shortage, Ashlock says they're not crying wolf. “I'm not saying it's going to happen and that alarm sirens should be going off at full volume, but the potential is certainly there. One guy I visited with (at a recent grain meeting) — a fellow who has a lot of pull in the seed industry — indicated that the premium varieties that growers clamor for might go fast. Growers may be left with their third or fourth choice. For that reason, I think growers should move a little quicker than normal to secure varieties they really want.”