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Growing Seed Corn: Is It Right for You?


Getting your foot into the seed corn game takes a lot of energy and a little bit of luck. Seed corn growers enjoy long relationships with seed companies, but it doesn’t come without an added workload. Growing seed corn takes precision, the right kind of land, and extra attention to detail.


Seed corn growers like the year-round employment that it provides, and many farmers have reaped the financial benefits of adding seed corn to their farm. While the profits can always help diversify your farm profile, growing seed corn isn’t for the faint of heart. Learn more about growing seed corn to see if it is a right fit for you:


Plant History

Long gone are the days when a farmer would save seed for the following year. As the highest tonnage crop worldwide, corn has become a big business for many in the industry. The first corn hybrid was commercially grown in the 1930s when acres saw an average yield of 24.2 bushels per acre. Now, almost a century later, corn fields produced a whopping 168 bushels per acre in 2019 thanks to hybrid seeds and new technology. This amount of growth has proven that seed companies are here to stay for the long haul.


Seed Corn Prerequisites

While many farmers enjoy working for themselves, growing seed corn for a company is an entirely different experience.


Right Work Ethic

We can all agree that farming is a tough job, no matter what kind of crops you have in the ground. It is an all-day occupation that leaves little time for sleeping and eating during some parts of the year. However, seed corn growers must be the best of the best when it comes to farming. Growing seed corn is a year-long challenge, and growers must be up to the task. Meticulous cleaning and planning skills are also needed to grow seed corn successfully. While many seed corn growers enjoy the work, it isn’t for everyone.


Land Requirements

Farmers looking to grow seed corn are often surprised at the long list of land requirements needed.


Uniform Soil

Another aspect of growing seed corn is having the right kind of land available. The field must have a consistent soil profile throughout as well as a high production rate. Uniformity is key when it comes to growing seed corn. The flowers must all come out at the same time so that pollination can occur. If the land doesn’t have the same soil profile, it is the farmer’s job to get it back into line and fast.



Irrigation and Drainage

Irrigation is another issue that many farmers run into when looking to grow seed corn. Seed companies want fields that have natural irrigation through a nearby creek or water source. However, the ground must also have well-drained areas or a stable tile system to help any flooding issues. Acquiring a piece of land that has both access to water but a tendency not to flood, can be tricky.


Easy Access

A seed corn field will require multiple passes during the growing season with plenty of attention. Having an easy access point to the field is vital so that you can get in equipment whenever necessary. Multiple access points are often needed to help with the constant management of the field during the growing season. The easier it is to get off the road and into the field, the less time you’ll spend maneuvering equipment as well.


Isolation

It is also essential that a seed corn field is not near any kind of commercial corn to ensure its purity. Seed companies often ask a group of nearby farmers to grow in a block of land to help isolate the corn from other crops. This not only protects the seeds from cross pollination, but it also protects from contamination of chemicals and unapproved sprays that may drift over to the field from neighboring farms.


Few Jobs Available

It can be hard to find a job with a seed corn company to start with. Many seed companies have long standing relationships with their growers that last decades. Growing seed corn also runs in the family and is often passed down to the next generation. Even if you meet all of the requirements to grow seed corn, it can still be difficult to find a job.


Plenty of Help

Most farmers hire extra help during the planting and harvesting season, but seed corn farmers require an excellent team of employees on a year round basis. The multiple passes that a seed corn field requires means that many farmers have a good labor force that understand the high stakes involved in growing seed corn. This is why many companies want to work with family farms that have multiple generations working together to ensure a quality product for years to come. Hired hands can always help, but it is better to have a high quality team that can stick to the strict guidelines and understands the ramifications of allowing just one seed getting mixed into the wrong batch.


Planting Seed Corn

While planting seed corn isn’t much different than regular corn, there are some requirements and timing issues that need to be addressed.


Types of Seed Corn

There are a wide variety of hybrids in the seed corn industry. While a new seed corn farmer may only grow one or two options, seasoned seed corn farmers grow up to 15 or more hybrids each year.


Plenty of Planning

Seed corn requires a lot of planning to ensure that there is enough isolation for the field. Farmers often plan a year or more in advance and are always looking to the future to figure out what fields to use for seed corn. The crop rotation is always on the mind of a seed corn farmer with plans that span well into the future. If a field floods or is damaged, it can greatly affect the seed corn production, and the rest of the crops, for years. Seed corn farmers often have a plan, and a backup plan (or two!) in case something happens.


Timing

Both male and female seeds must be planted separately. Many seed corn farmers plant the female seeds first and the male seeds planted a few weeks later. This requires a lot of planning to make sure that your planter is lined up and loaded correctly in the field. Male rows must never be farther than 19 inches from female rows, which can be tricky to plan given the field shape and size. Again, planting seeds at different times means more time spent in the field and an acute attention to detail.


Extra Cleaning and Care

When growing seed corn for a company, it is crucial that you clean out the planter after every variety is planted. Attention to detail is critical, as you don’t want even one seed to make it into the wrong field. While many farmers may leave some harvested corn in the field or on the road, there is often no room for error on the part of a seed corn farmer. The seed companies require farmers to use the utmost care and precision when handling the seeds, growing the plants, and then harvesting the seeds.


Growing Seed Corn

While many farmers are accustomed to growing different varieties of crops, seed corn is a different game in itself.


Constant Supervision

Seed fields require constant supervision during the growing season. Farmers must visit the field at a minimum of once a day, which can be hard for those farmers with fields that are spread out over a large area. Multiple passes are needed on the field to apply insecticides and fungicides throughout the growing season as well. Seed corn fields are monitored by the seed company so it is imperative that farmers keep a keen eye on every seed corn field that they plant.


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Detasseling is Vital

Detasseling is another area of concern that requires a keen eye and a lot of time. Most seed corn fields are detasseled over five weeks in the summer. The female rows are passed over with a cutter while another pass is needed a few days later. Crews also go through the field multiple times to ensure that all of the male rows are detasseled. Once pollination occurs, the male rows are then cut as their seed isn’t desired for the final crop.


Issues Require Top Priority

Field specialists and agronomists carefully monitor the field during the growing season. If any kind of issue comes up, the area must be given top priority by the farmer to ensure that the seeds are the best quality. We all know that fields can have issues at some of the most inconvenient times, but an issue with a seed corn field becomes a huge problem for all involved.


Harvesting Seed Corn

Taking your seed corn out of the field is an exciting time, but the work is far from over. Add in some special care and harvesting seed corn can take awhile.


Field Yields

In a “more is better” corn economy, it can be hard for some producers to watch a seed corn field yield less than regular corn fields. The thresholds are lower due to some seeds that are susceptible to disease. However, the crop value is higher than regular corn, which can make up the difference. Field yields can greatly differ depending on the year as well as the parameters given by the seed company themselves.


Specialized Equipment

Harvesting seed corn requires extra equipment that many farmers don’t have. Seed corn is harvested by removing the ear and husk intact. The entire ear is then transported to the seed company for processing. This harvesting method greatly differs from normal combines that harvest the seed directly off the ear while in the field.


Cleaning

In between fields, the combine must be cleaned so that there aren’t any seeds leftover from the previous variety. Cleaning the combine and all of the tools involved is essential for seed corn growers. You must be meticulous about the cleaning process to ensure that the seed corn is labeled correctly.


Seed Testing

Seed corn is a big business, and many seed companies need impeccable seed to match their claims. Once seed corn is harvested, it goes through rigorous testing to ensure that the seed is the very best quality for farmers. DNA tests are performed as well as size, disease, and damage tests. The seeds are treated, conditioned, and then sent to storage.


Crop Storage

Seed corn is stored either in black boxes or in bulk while it waits for the next growing season to arrive. More corn is stored in bulk than in boxes, but the boxes market is definitely growing each year. Seed dealers and farmers then store the seed corn in grain bins in preparation for Spring. Most seed corn should be stored at 50℉ and 50% humidity for the best results.


Using a VeyWay Grain Bin Conveyor System from IGSE is an excellent way to ensure that you get every last seed out of the bin without damage. Seed corn is expensive and leaving any seeds behind, or damaging them during the process, can significantly reduce your yield.


Seed Corn Industry Market

While growing seed corn is a tough job, it doesn’t come without its benefits to the bottom line.


Potential Growth

As corn continues to grow as a hot commodity in our world, the need for seed corn will also continue to climb. New technologies have created a high demand for corn, which has trickled down to the seed corn growers as well. While there are a lot of seed corn companies, there are only a handful of chemical companies that own most of the American market, thanks to recent mergers.


Growing seed corn is a viable option for those farmers who are willing to rise to the challenge. Working for a seed company is different and requires more equipment and a competent staff. However, growing seed corn is an option that can help diversify your farm and set up a long-standing relationship in an industry that will only continue to grow and prosper in the future.


At Illinois Grain and Seed Equipment (IGSE), we are known for our customer service and knowledge of what you need in the field. For more information on how IGSE can help you with your seed corn storage, contact our office today!


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