Mid-South farmers already know that late-summer heat and drought hurt their soybean yields. Now, concerns about soybean seed availability for next year are surfacing.
In Arkansas, the germination average of soybean seed tested so far by the Arkansas State Plant Board is in the low 80s.
“That isn't great,” says Mary Smith, director of the Plant Board Seed Division. “We don't do cold tests. We do accelerated aging tests and those were averaging in the 60s. Of course, the current numbers are an average. There are some very good beans available and others that probably aren't sellable.”
For comparison, last year's seed quality was very good — in the low 90s for germ and in the low 80s for accelerated aging.
In mid-November, Jeremy Ross attended several meetings where Mid-South agronomists and Extension specialists said their states would see tight soybean seed supplies.
“I've got the same belief,” says the Arkansas Extension soybean specialist. “The quality is a worry and the late-planted seed didn't do well. So far, both the germ and (accelerated aging) tests are lower than I'd like to see.”
August was so hot that even irrigated soybeans were under incredible stress, says Ross. In Arkansas, “the entire month of August, it never dropped below 94 degrees during the day. And for an 11-day stretch, temperatures were over 100 with a couple of 105-degree days in there.
“Ideally, soybeans do best at around 87 degrees. That temperature was just a dream for the entirety of August.”
September temperatures were also “a culprit” in the poor quality of seed across much of the country says Don Schafer, Pioneer senior product line manager for soybeans. “This was not only in the Mid-South but into southern Illinois, Missouri, Indiana and Ohio. And it was also on the East Coast — Georgia and the Carolinas are still in all-time drought conditions. Like other seed companies, we have production there.”
Schafer describes August as a “blast furnace. It wasn't only hot, but windy. It's extremely difficult for plants to withstand those types of conditions … and grow quality seed.”
And, yes, Pioneer is “being challenged in meeting the needs of the marketplace. You must remember the dynamics involved in corn, soybeans, cotton — pick your product. The marketplace has made some very interesting changes over the last couple of years with commodity prices.
“We saw a dramatic shift to corn in North America last year. Literally, it became a bidding war … for the crop to garnish as many acres as possible.”
Conversely, soybean acreage in the South dropped last year. But now it appears the pendulum “is swinging the other way with the demand for corn acres somewhat tempered with bean acreage higher.”
Was seed from all soybean maturity groups equally hurt?
“If you look at North America, the hot and dry conditions impacted a wide swath. You're probably looking at (problems) in late 3s all the way through 6s and 7s. Most of the 6s and 7s are produced on the East Coast, and they had a historic drought there.”
Farmers, says Schafer, “need to secure soybean seed supplies. They need to get that done quickly. I'd be in contact with my retailer.”
If farmers follow through on current plans with soybean acres next year, “it'll make what we just saw in wheat seed look plentiful,” says Jim Craig at Stratton Seed in Stuttgart, Ark. “The soybean seed supply is as tight as I've seen in this business for 30-plus years. Many folks know there's a tight market. But they don't know the extent yet.”
In Illinois, “normal seed counts usually run in the high 2,000 range — say 2,800 to 3,400 per pound. But because it was droughty, many of the beans weren't even harvested. And of those harvested, seed counts have run as high 5,500 with a lot around 4,000. Let me tell you, 5,500 seed per pound would almost be planting BBs. That is some small seed.”
As they did last spring's corn seed, Ross says, producers will likely be able to secure soybean seed — but not the varieties atop their lists of favorites. “Corn seed was tight and short, but I think everyone that wanted to plant corn found some. Bean seed will be similar. Farmers may end up not with their top three choices, but their 10th and 11th.”
And if seed is tight, producers “should consider what that means in getting a good stand. If they plant too early and lose the stand, the seed may not be available for replant. That means not only timing of planting but seed treatments should be considered.”
The true story of how tight bean seed will be has yet to be written, says Craig. “A lot of these beans are just now getting germ and (accelerated aging) tests back. So far, the numbers aren't encouraging.”