The rain has let up. Maybe you can get back in to shell in that no-till field this afternoon. The corn is running 22%, but it's the last week of October. You think it's time to bite the bullet and shell now, dry the corn, and avoid the specter of harvesting corn on frozen ground in December of later.
Then a pickup pulls up. It's a seed salesman you've got some seed from before, a bit this year, but not your major supplier. After the small talk, he pitches his newest, greatest hybrids. Instead of yield and standability, the hallmarks of seed talks a decade ago, he starts with traits. It's a triple stack. Or maybe it's the new Smart Stax.
Assuming you would consider buying a few bags from him again, what questions should you ask? Here's a few for starters.
- Traits, so what?- Which traits does this hybrid have, and what can they do for you? Why do you need protection against corn borer if you don't think it's a big problem for you?
- A new pest hit- can it stop it? – One hallmark of the new SmartStax hybrids is that they protect against more pests than some triple stacks did before, including corn earworm and western bean cutworm. More of a problem to the west and north at the moment, western bean cutworm can be devastating, and it can riddle triple-stacks if they don't have protection against it.
- Where's your yield data? - That's still number one with most farmers. A hybrid can have every trait imaginable, but if it doesn't have high yield ability, it may not be the most profitable choice.
- Where's your proof- If the hybrids he's pitching haven't ever been on your farm, where's the closest location where they've been tested? Have they been up against hybrids you know something about? Were the tests just company plots, or independent trials. Get specific- ask to see results, and not just slick colored tables in brochures either.
- What about disease tolerance? This one is a must after ear rots and stalk rots played havoc this year, especially in the Eastern Corn Belt. And what about resistance to leaf diseases? Ask to see a rating scale, and ask for an explanation. If it's a 1 to 9 scale, with 1 being the best, a '6' means 'watch out.' Most companies wouldn't release a hybrid that they would put a 7 or 8 on, notes Dave Nanda, a plant breeder and consultant. If you still like the hybrid, factor in possible fungicide spraying as an extra cost. The season will determine whether it's necessary or not.
- Cost, cost, cost! It's still a huge part of the bottom line, right next to yield. After all, all traits aside, those are the two factors that determine how much profit per acre is left at the end of the day. And while you may enjoy growing corn, most people don't expect to grow it for free.
- Cost per acre- Talk planting populations and seeding rates. What rates are best for this hybrid? Then what will the cost be per acre?
- Ask for best price? Cut to the chase if you're interested. Will there be discounts later? If there are special programs announced after you buy, will you be eligible? What kind of early payment or volume discounts are there?
- Seed treatments- With introduction of Avicta Complete Corn by Syngenta, seed treatments now become a bigger issue in corn too. Nearly all hybrids carry some treatments. But what specific treatments are on the hybrids this guy is selling? Will it stop nematodes like new Avicta Complete is supposed to do? Are nematodes even an issue that you should worry about?
- Trust- Last but not least, do you trust this person? Will he or she be there when the corn doesn't come up, or when there's a reaction to a herbicide you didn't anticipate? After yield and price, trust and service from your supplier rank very high, Nanda concludes.