Tim Velde had about half his corn planted before the weather near Hanley Falls went sour in May. Then he had to switch seed to make sure his corn beat the first frost in the fall.
“I had to get something that matures a little earlier,” Velde said. “Mostly 100- to 102-day corn is what I usually go for, and I switched to 88- to 90-day seed.”
Farmers all over the Midwest had to make last-second decisions on what type of seed to plant thanks to the cool, wet spring and delayed planting. On roads and rails, seed has been on the move over the last few weeks to farms, elevators and cooperatives all over the country. In Ohio and Indiana, where vast swaths of the corn acreage are yet to be planted, the movement is still on.
“The whole state has been experiencing this, and really the whole Midwest,” said Brian Buck, a field agronomist for Pioneer Hi-Bred, whose territory covers much of southeast Minnesota. “A lot happens fast in a tough spring like this.”
Corn requires a certain number of warm days to reach maturity before the fall, and yields suffer if the plants don’t have enough time. But seed companies offer corn hybrids with varying maturity times to accommodate the different lengths of growing seasons.
“Farmers were switching what they call their full-season corn for earlier varieties that generally come from further north,” said Mac Ehrhardt, one of the owners of Albert Lea Seed, which deals mostly in organic and non-GMO but sells some conventional seed. “The corn that was going to be planted in St. Cloud or Fargo, even, would have gone to Worthington.”
Seed companies are well equipped to move seed around, and there is generally not a penalty for farmers who want to switch seed.
“It just takes a lot of communication between the grower and the sales representative,” Buck said.
Buck said unused corn seed can be taken to a storage facility and planted next spring.
Soybean seed cannot be saved.
About a quarter of the fields near Brewster, Minn., had to be planted with earlier maturing seed to accommodate the late planting there, said Denny Weber, agronomy division manager for New Vision Co-Op.
“Everybody had a few fields they had to switch,” Weber said.
Seed distributors handled most of the logistics, trucking 85-day corn down from farther north.
The typical 105-day corn used in southwest Minnesota is still mostly at the farms, Weber said.
Farmers were too busy trying to get their crops in the ground to hassle with returning the seed quickly, and it’s too late for that seed to be used elsewhere this growing season.
“We’re getting a lot of that seed back now,” Weber said.
Weber said about 25% of the fields near Brewster were planted with earlier-maturing hybrids, 25% will be left unplanted because it’s just too late to plant corn, and the other half was planted with typical seed for that part of the Corn Belt.
Bayer, the German agriscience giant that acquired Monsanto, said in a statement that some farmers in the Midwest are planting soybeans instead of corn.
“In some cases, growers are choosing to switch crops entirely, for example, changing out corn seed for soybean seed,” the company said.
Soybeans can be planted later than corn and still reach maturity before the fall.
Velde said his local dealer, at Farmers Cooperative Elevator in Hanley Falls, got ahead of the situation when it became clear many farmers weren’t going to be able to get their original seed in the ground in time.
Velde just had to call him up, truck his big plastic tubs of seed back to the elevator and pick up new ones.
Just as with most aspects of farming, the decision of whether to plant earlier-maturing varieties of corn depends on multiple variables.
Farmers with their own drier can afford to stick with a later-maturing variety since they don’t have to pay the elevator to dry wet corn for them in the fall. Farmers with their own livestock can do the same since they can feed wet corn to the animals.
But thanks to the scattered rain that hit Minnesota throughout the cool spring, cornfields across the state will not look uniform as the summer progresses.
“There’s going to be a lot of variation in corn this year,” said Buck, the Pioneer agronomist. “I’ve been in corn today that’s 14 inches tall and seen corn that’s two or three inches tall.”