Preparing Soybean Seed for Planting

A look at the seed conditioning and treatment process at CHS, Inc.

Gone are the days when a hole was dug in the ground, a seed was thrown in and a prayer was said in hopes of a productive yield.
The prayers may still be said, but with today’s agriculture, a lot more effort is put into enabling greater and more consistent yields for growers. Seed today, in this case soybean seed, goes through an extensive process of cleaning –– conditioning is the technical term –– and for some producers, treating before it returns to the ground to produce another season’s crop.
CHS Inc., a Fortune 100 farm supply company with several locations in southwest Minnesota including Marshall, Ruthton, Tracy and Pipestone, has been cleaning and treating seed for over 10 years. The company conditions approximately 425,000 bushels of seed a year, with the majority of its growers residing in Minnesota, South Dakota and Nebraska.
The seed arrives at the Marshall facility either directly from farmers who have contracted fields with CHS, or picked up by the plant in trucks equipped with a vacuum that sucks seed from storage bins into trucks for transport. Once the seed has arrived, the conditioning process begins. 
“Seed conditioning involves taking raw bushels from the fields and you remove all the sticks, chaff, all the unwanted stuff to make a clean seed that you can plant again,” said Mike Nybo, the Lead Seed Cleaner in Marshall. “If you leave all that stuff in it can plug the planter up and of course it doesn’t add to the quality and quantity of the seed.”
The pre-conditioned seeds are held in 12 bins outside the plant where it is brought in on a conveyor belt and run through a machine called an airmill that helps separate excess debris from the seed, as well as separate the seeds by size. Anything discharged at this point may become screenings, which can be used for livestock feed or other purposes, or be blended off with other grain. From the airmill, the seed makes its way up two floors to another machine called the color sorter. This process not only helps to separate the seed by its color, but it can also identify and discard stray kernels of corn that are mixed in or seed that may be infested with mold. After the seed has made its way through the color sorter, it is transported back down to the first floor where it is split between two gravity tables that sort the seed by its density.
“It [the gravity table] pushes all the heavier seed to the high side of the table and all lighter and smaller seed goes to the low side,” Nybo said. “On table one and two there are three cuts. The first cut will go to the bagging bin, the second cut will go to the third table for a second chance to make the cut for bagging before being discarded to screenings, and the third cut will automatically send whatever it has captured to screenings.”
The third and final table will send what has been given a second chance to the bagging carousel or to be discarded with screenings. Depending on the particular work order being filled, the seed will either be bagged and stored in the warehouse or placed in a storage bin until it is ready for pickup or delivery through Allegiant, CHS’s company wholesale seed brand.
Throughout the entire cleaning process, regular testing is done for mold or other issues, seed weight, and splitting or breaking of the protective skin on the seed. These tests also help plant workers determine how much seed they can clean on a given day or hour, because the quality of the seed, moisture content and a number of other factors determine how easily the seed will break, and in turn how fast or slow it can be run through the plant. If the size or weight of the seed changes, a new order or lot must be started in order to keep the seed size uniform in each package and order.
“When we have good quality seed coming in we can run anywhere from 400-500 bushels an hour,” Nybo said.
This is where the story ends for some of the seed, but a good amount from the Marshall plant is sent to the Ruthton location where it goes through a chemical treatment process that helps to prevent different kinds of root diseases that strike early in the season, such as fusarium, pythium and rhizoctonia root rot and soybean cyst nematode, which are the four main early season diseases for which the soybean seed is treated. These diseases among many other potential threats may cause significant loss in crop yields if not prevented.
“The pressure is getting high,” said Mitch Nelson, an agronomy sales representative based out of Ruthon. “Soybean cycst nematode is still the number one yield-robbing thing in soybean production. They’re culling 10-15 percent off the top before you even see any visual indicators.”
All of the treatments used in the industry are liquid and are sorted into a three-tier system categorized by what they treat. The first tier is a straight fungicide treatment, the middle tier is a fungicide and insecticide treatment and the final tier is a fungicide, insecticide and nematocide treatment.
Seed that is to be treated is held in storage bins outside the facility or in the large totes or paper bags that they arrived in depending on the work order. A computer board inside allows personnel to enter the number of units that need to be treated, which are then put into a tank that weighs the pounds needed to fill that order. Once the amount is reached it is transported to the treater where the seed is weighed again to tell the machine how much liquid treatment is needed. As the seed is sprayed with the liquid treatment it passes into a large drum that mixes to assure uniform coating. The color of the coating will depend on the company, with CHS opting for blue. The most in-depth part of the process is calibrating the treater. Each chemical used has a different density per gallon so the pumps are calibrated to flow only as quickly as needed for the amount of seed being treated.
After the seed has been fully coated it is transported on another conveyor belt. From there it is either re-bagged, or placed in a seed tender truck to be delivered directly to the planter.
Not all producers use treated seed. Nelson said once they do, they notice the difference.
“Year-in and year-out, treating has proved itself in yield,” Nelson said. “People have definitely said they’ve noticed a change when they went away from treating. It all depends on the customer.”
Seed treating has only been a part of the Ruthton operation for around four years, with much of it being done previously in the Marshall plant. Although there is a treater in every location, the majority of it is done in Ruthton. In the future, CHS plans to expand its seed conditioning operations with the hope of moving its soybean conditioning plant to its Pipestone location, freeing up the space in Marshall to process sunflower seeds.
“Our hope, although it is not set in stone, is to have it in the building we bought down in Pipestone where we are currently storing seed,”  said Terry Schmidt, a Market Development Manager with CHS. “There is more room there for the volume of seed that we process and it should help us to produce orders more quickly and efficiently.”
 

True Believer
Ackermann was cover crop advocate long before he became a seed dealer

Jerry Ackermann never intended to sell cover crop seed.
He just wanted to plant it.
Now he does both.
The longtime Lakefield-area farmer has been a prominent local cover crops advocate for years. He became a dealer for La Crosse Seed — which specializes in cover crop, forage and turf seed — about five years ago.
“Some years ago, about three or four of us in the area started experimenting with cover crops,” Ackermann said.
He first learned of Wisconsin-based La Crosse Seed at a trade show.
“We found they would mix up anything we wanted,” Ackermann recalled. “That’s their thing — they mix for the customer, which is very unique in the industry.”
Not long after he planted his first cover crop, Ackermann said he started seeing benefits.
Big benefits.
“There’s cost benefits of using cover crops; there’s yield benefits that go with it,” he said. “We see improved soil health and water infiltration, it makes weed control so much easier and less costly — they can even help protect against stalk rot and can affect ground temperature, which affects corn production. There are so many benefits, some of which I wasn’t even looking for or expecting.”
Ackermann said he was a cover crop believer, but not a dealer — that is, until a change in the structure of La Crosse Seed made necessary a local dealership. He agreed to take the lead.
Since starting to sell seed, Ackermann said he has seen interest in cover crops grow.
“More and more people are coming to us,” he said. “Word is getting out.”
But, he cautions, cover crops aren’t for the faint of heart.
“It does take more management to work with cover crops,” he said. “You have to do some homework and planning. But if you follow the recommendations, you can enjoy great results.”
One of the homework assignments for those looking to grow cover crops is species selection, Ackermann said.
“Cereal rye is the most used cover crop around here,” he said. “But you also have radishes, turnips, rapeseed, clover and many, many other species and combinations of species you can use. There’s positives to each.”
Though Ackermann said he has gained much insight into what works and what doesn’t from years of on-the-farm research and field trials, he admits he still has much to learn.
“It’s interesting and fun learning, and I’m still learning,” he said. “I’m constantly trying to keep up on what’s the latest and greatest.”
But even more enjoyable to Ackermann is the people he has met since he started planting cover crops and, later, selling the seed.
“One of my favorite parts of all this is meeting the great people involved in this and hearing all of their results and what they’ve learned,” he said. “There are so many good and wonderful benefits associated with cover crops and so many good and wonderful people who are realizing those benefits.”
 

A Koi Attraction The Art of Raising Prize Fish

Pat Dero and his wife, Paulette of rural Lynd are no strangers to the exotic and unusual. For over 13 years they have been raising koi fish on their farm, entertaining everyone from family members to tour groups across southwest Minnesota. At the present time, they have around 45 fish with some weighing in around 10 pounds and measuring over 30 inches in length.
Koi fish are an ornamental species descending from the Chinese Oujiang color carp, according to science.gov. Originally the Chinese may have farmed the carp for food, and this practice eventually made its way to Japan where the Japanese began to breed some of the carp based on their odd colors and patterns, thus creating the species known as koi fish. Today, the ornate fish can be found in ponds, rivers and aquariums across the world, and because they grow as big as their environment will allow, they have been known to reach up to 35 pounds in weight on average with some even reaching between 2 and 3 feet in length while in captivity.
Pat, a 71-year-old retiree, stumbled upon the “delicate art” of raising koi fish all those years ago when a close friend who had a koi pond of his own visited his farm and insisted that it was the perfect set up for a pond.
“He drafted a plan up in 15 minutes on the hillside of our home on just a scratch piece of paper,” Dero said. “He drew out a lower pond, an upper pond and two streams with waterfalls, and the rest is history.”
The waterfalls help to provide a natural water filter for the pond, in addition to creating a visually appealing piece. After all was said and done, around 58 tons of rock was hauled in to construct the pond, streams and waterfalls with around 50 tons actually being utilized in the structure. When Dero began raising the fish he was working as a marketing director for Schwan’s, but now he spends his days woodworking, hunting, tinkering with his hot rods and raising koi.
Although the fish reproduce in Dero’s pond, some of his fish come from a man he calls the “koi doctor” who resides in the Twin Cities area and travels to national and international koi shows. In Japan the most treasured koi is one that is completely white with a circular red medallion on its head as it resembles their national flag. According to Dero, the koi doctor has seen a top koi fish sell for upwards of $55,000. On average, however, a 1-year-old Koi that measures around 10-11 inches in length may fetch $30 - $50.
Dero’s koi spend around eight months in his outdoor pond where they spawn thousands of eggs during the warm late spring and early summer months. According to Dero, the eggs embed themselves into the rocks and will not expose themselves until they are about 3 inches in length in order to be protected from the elements and predators, including other koi fish. Less than one percent of the spawned eggs will survive and become adult koi. In the winter months, the fish are transported into his 1,600-gallon tank in a heated garage.
“You have to be careful when you move them not to overly flex their back because it could break,” Dero said. “It is a delicate process.”
Transporting the koi is not the only challenge faced by breeders. Water chemistry plays an important role in maintaining both the health of the fish and the beauty of the crystal-clear water found in most ponds and tanks. Recently, Dero returned home from a vacation with his wife to find that the algae growth had become a little imbalanced inside their large indoor tank.
“The balance is having a little algae on the rocks because the Koi enjoy eating it,” Dero said. “Too much, especially the stringy strains, destroy the beauty of the clear water. I use a calculated amount of hydrogen peroxide to aid in balancing the amount of algae that grows in the water because it is an oxidizer.”
Using an amount between 40 – 100 parts per million will not harm decorative plants or the fish or completely kill the algae, but the hydrogen peroxide dose will stunt the algal growth. In addition to using gentle chemical treatments, Dero relies on a sophisticated commercial-sizes filter system that helps to control algae growth and maintain water quality through use of ultraviolet light which kills suspended pieces of algae that pass through and helps to eliminate murkiness in the water. It is a delicate process that requires skill and experience to maintain a healthy and beautiful environment for the beautiful koi, he said.
Despite the amount of time, energy and money that goes into raising koi, Dero and his wife are not really interested in selling their fish.
“I have never sold any of them,” Dero said. “I usually just give them away to friends or organizations such hospitals.”
One such hospital was the former Weiner Memorial Medical Center in Marshall which now operates as Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center. The Deros also enjoy helping to maintain the outdoor pond at the Prairie Home Hospice Lockwood House in Marshall.
Deros’ favorite part about raising the fish is the joy that it brings those who get to see the fish.
“Koi are inherently people friendly and if you feed them by hand, they will come to you,” he said. “It’s been a great hobby and a joy for family and friends.”
 

Ag technology provides wealth of real time data

Modern farming is a drastically different animal than it was just a few decades ago.
Many of today’s farmers use Global Positioning System (GPS) technology and sensors to obtain detailed data about everything from moisture levels and temperature to soil compaction and seed spacing. That technology means farmers no longer have to apply water, fertilizer and pesticides evenly across entire fields, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), but can instead apply the specific amounts needed and target the needs of specific areas of their fields.
Monitors in the cab and downloadable apps allow farmers to see the data in real time and use it to make informed decisions that can help them maximize their yields and save money.
“It gives you an opportunity to be able to see in high definition exactly what’s going on,” said Jerry Houselog, of Moody County, South Dakota.
Houselog knows the ins and outs of farming technology. He’s used it for years while farming with his brother and nephews and started selling it in 2009. Today, Houselog sells Precision Planting and Ag Leader products to customers within about a 60-mile radius of his home west of Pipestone across the South Dakota state line.
Houselog has several examples of how the technology has benefited him and others. In one case, he and his brother were planting and he noticed on the monitor in the cab of the tractor that seeds were not being dropped properly. Some areas were being skipped as indicated by a red dot on the GPS image of the field he was in.
“One row was kind of repetitive with a red dot,” he said. “I got out and looked and the seed disc has a hole that sucks the seed up and one of them had a piece of seed stuck in it. The seed wouldn’t hold on there, so it would actually be a skip every so often.”
He removed the seed that was stuck and there were no more skips. Had the technology not alerted him to the problem, that row of the planter would have continued to skip and fewer seeds would have been planted, potentially reducing the yield.
Seed spacing is important, Houselog said. If seeds are spaced too far apart the farmer is not getting the most out of their land, but if they’re planted too close together, the plants could choke each other out. In addition, different types of soil can support different quantities of seed. Lighter or sandier soil, for example, cannot hold as much water and therefore cannot sustain as many plants.
“If it’s planted too thick, it will have a plant there and it will shrivel up and not put an ear on,” he said. “If you can lower it to a certain point, it will have enough to sustain that plant and actually put an ear on, so you save some seed and it should increase your yield in that spot because you’re not planting too thick. On the opposite end of that spectrum, your very best soil can handle more because it has more water-holding capacity and organic matter and nutrients, so we can up that a little bit.”
Among the newest equipment he sells is the SmartFirmer. The device is attached to the planter behind the disc and measures soil temperature, moisture and the amount of plant residue and organic matter in the seed trench.
“It gives you some information to make the best decision as far as adjusting things in the planter,” Houselog said.
The device can also make farmers aware of mechanical problems that could impact their equipment and ultimately their costs and yields.
Houselog said another significant advancement in recent years is the use of hydraulic down force on each individual row of a planter. Traditionally, there was a spring or an airbag that would apply downward force to help the discs penetrate the ground, but different amounts of pressure might be needed depending on the soil. More pressure might be needed, for example, to plant in a tire track from a combine due to the compaction of the soil.
The hydraulic system Houselog sells is called the DeltaForce. It senses changes in the soil and adjusts the amount of down force on each row of the planter to make sure the seeds are planted at the proper depth. In this region, Houselog said that’s about 1.75 to 2 inches deep.
It also helps avoid too much compaction of the soil that Houselog said can cause the roots to grow straight down, which is called hatchet root.
“That really hurts them because it slows them down,” he said. “And now they’re all heading to that same spot instead of spreading all the way out.”
Modern tractors come equipped with many of the newest technology features, but Houselog said farmers can also add the technology to their existing equipment piece by piece over time, which is more manageable financially than buying a new tractor.
In addition to selling the equipment, Houselog provides training on how to use it each spring after the new software updates come out. The training sessions are not yet scheduled for 2019.