Growing crops for seed production is somewhat similar and, at the same time, remarkably different to traditional crop production. While some aspects of seed production look familiar to the untrained eye, there’s a lot more to it than what goes into traditional crop farming.
Brandon Hunnicutt of Giltner, Nebraska, grew up in a family that had been involved in growing corn for seed production for many years. Hunnicutt says farmers get into seed production for many reasons, but often because seed companies reach out to them first.
“We actually took a break from seed production for a few years,” Hunnicutt recalled. “The company we’re with actually called us because we had ground that really would work well for them because it was in a location really close to their plant. It made more sense for us to grow seed for them than it did for them to worry about us raising a crop that might be detrimental to seed production.”
Hunnicutt said the seed producers in his area grow in different soil types, including sandy, silt-loam, and soils with more clay in them. Seed companies are more interested in field location rather than soil types. Fields that are close to the production plant mean cheaper transportation costs. They also look at field irrigation as companies don’t want late-season dry field problems.
Field location is also important because of pollination issues. Crops like white corn, popcorn, and Pioneer’s Enogen Seed Corn all have the potential to interfere with seed corn production, not because of any defect in those crops, but seed-corn pollination is very different from traditional pollination.
“There’s an isolation requirement that seed companies want,” Hunnicutt said, “at 165 feet from the outside edge of a row of field corn to the outside edge, or the male-border rows, of a seed field. That distance can help protect against pollination drift. Crops like popcorn, seed corn, and Enogen can cause cross-pollination issues, so the distance requirements are a little longer.”
Cross-pollination issues take away from the purity of the seed, adding and subtracting desired traits, making the product less valuable and less effective for future growing seasons. Seed companies will often reach out to farmers that produce white corn or popcorn and offer to let them grow seed corn on a certain field to avoid pollination issues.
Soybean seed producers don’t have to worry about cross-pollination challenges because soybeans are not open-pollinators. Early-season production processes are the same as traditional soybean farmers. One thing done to ensure pure soybean seeds is to make sure farm equipment is cleaned out prior to planting seed beans.
Both seed corn and seed bean companies send representatives out into the fields during the growing season to monitor for potential problems and preserve seed purity. Seed farmers are producing the traits and hybrids for the crops that commercial farmers will grow in their fields next year.