The squeeze on the nation's soybean seed supply is not loosening.
“The seed shortage is primarily a function of supply and demand,” says Trey Koger, Mississippi Extension soybean specialist. “Because of soybean market prices, demand is at an all-time high. In fact, if demand and seed availability holds up, we're about to plant the biggest soybean crop ever in the state.”
If seed is available, Koger predicts a Mississippi soybean acreage around 2.25 million. Add in soybeans double-cropped with wheat and the state may hit 2.5 million acres.
The tight seed supply comes after a 2007 growing season that was less than ideal in many seed-producing regions.
“Last year, bad weather hit areas the Mid-South relies on for seed-increase: northern Arkansas, the Missouri Bootheel, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and the Carolinas. The weather issue isn't a simple one. Those areas had a lot of hot, dry weather that led to small, dry seed often with extensive cracking to the seed coat.”
Then, during harvest, some of the seed-growing areas experienced wet conditions that delayed harvest and further damaged the seed. Overall, the seed “had to be cleaned more times than normal to remove extensive foreign matter. All of this led to a lot of seed with such poor quality and low germination it had to be held back and not put in the pipeline to be sold.”
Unfortunately, there's no remedy for mechanical damage. Is there any way to compensate?
“The only thing we can do is plant more seed. In years when demand isn't so high and seed supply isn't so tight, we can pick and choose the best varieties. That isn't the case this year. There's no extra seed to plant.
“Most farmers book seed in the fall. That's good. However, due to many weather-related quality issues, a lot of soybean seed companies had to cut their seed availability projections. We're about to plant a lot of varieties we know very little about.”
If a farmer can procure seed, the next thing to do is make sure the germ testing is okay. “Pay close attention to that. In Mississippi, it's legal to sell seed that's at 60 percent germ, or better. Germination less than 60 percent may not be sold.”
Another problem: “seed may have tested 85 percent germination two months ago before shipped to the distributor, but two months later it may be testing 75 percent.
“In the past, we've kind of stuck with an 80 percent germ level. Folks would hardly sell anything below 80 percent.” This year, much soybean seed is being sold at 70 percent germ, some even at 65 percent.
“So it's extremely important that once a farmer gets his seed, he pays special attention to the percent germination. You must base your seeding rate on the germination — the lower the rate, the more seeding rate must increase (see accompanying charts).”
The next thing Koger emphasizes is that most farmers will have a single shot at a stand. “Replanting is unlikely to be an option in Mississippi. That means it's imperative that we not plant too early — and soybeans are the earliest crop in the state. Some Mississippi farmers try to plant in middle to late March. Those situations can produce acceptable crops, but the soybeans frequently are hurt by late spring cool snaps.”
Some Mississippi dryland acres will be planted in early April — perhaps a few in very late March. But if possible, “wait until April 5 to April 20 before going into the fields big-time.”
Lastly, don't plant a soybean seed without a fungicide treatment. “Seed treatments are the cheapest thing we can do to ensure that we don't lose stands to pythium and other soilborne diseases.”