The seed is in the warehouse and awaiting delivery

With the snow melting and spring nearly here, it’s the time of year when Ben Ludeman starts delivering seed to his customers.
Ludeman and his wife Stacey operate an LG Seed dealership, grow corn and soybeans, and manage two swine facilities near Tracy.
Ludeman said he sells most of his seed between harvest and Jan. 1, which is when customers can make sure they get the products they want and receive the best discounts. Seed is then shipped from December into planting season and he starts delivering it to customers at the end of March and first part of April.
Ludeman said farmers he’s talked to seem eager to start planting after a few years, during which the planting windows have been “short and erratic.”
“I’ve noticed that farmers will probably have less patience and take advantage of every window of opportunity to get a crop in,” Ludeman said. “Hopefully, we have the patience to wait until conditions are right.”
Ludeman said the recent weather has made farmers optimistic that there will be a normal planting window this year, but that the weather during the next few weeks will determine if that’s the case.
“Ideally, we like to start planting around April 20, but that hasn’t happened the last few years,” he said.
Last year, farmers in the area started planting in mid-May, Ludeman said, and finished up around mid-June. Some farmers, including him, weren’t able to plant all their acres. He said just over 25 percent of the corn seed and about 10 percent of the soybean seed he sold last year was returned because the farmers couldn’t plant it.
“I’ve been selling seed for 24 years and I’ve never seen anything close to it,” Ludeman said. “And customers who I work with who have been farming for 50 years have never seen a planting season quite like that.”
At their own farm, the Ludemans prevent planted about 15 percent of their acres, but Ludeman said the acres they did plant had “surprisingly good yields.”
That wasn’t the case for everyone, however, even on the acres they did plant. Ludeman said last year’s yields varied widely by location due to wind storms that came through the area and caused green snap as well as poorly drained soils that suffered significant yield loss.
“No two operations had similar results from 2019,” he said. “You had some operations with significant acres of prevent plant, some with none, some with wind storms and torrential rains that caused yields to suffer and other areas with well-drained soils that saw yields at or slightly above average production history.”
He said there have been “big rewards” to planting early in recent years in terms of crops maturing and yields.
“The early planted stuff has a better opportunity to fully mature and dry down,” Ludeman said.
At the same time he cautions farmers not to over react and plant maturities that are out of this zone.
“Sometimes people want to plant really early corn, so it can reach maturity earlier and be drier, but sometimes there’s a pretty big yield penalty for that,” Ludeman said.
He advises his customers to take the same measures as always when it comes to planting this year — spread out maturities, spread out hybrids to manage risk and try to wait until conditions are fit or close to reasonably fit.
Ludeman said he has seen farmers investing in technology, including high-speed and larger planters, and drainage tile to help the ground dry out faster, but ultimately technology can only do so much. Planting and growing remains dependent on the weather.
“Plant in the dust and the bins will bust,” he said. “That’s the old saying.”
 

Sioux Valley Tiling establishing itself as a leader in the field

The best equipment, the latest technology and a commitment to getting the job done right is helping Sioux Valley Tiling establish itself as one of the region’s top tiling firms.
“Tiling is not a new concept,” said Izak Domonoske of Jackson-based Sioux Valley Tiling. “At the end of the day, you’re putting tile in the ground. But the way we go about doing that from start to finish is what differentiates us.”
Sioux Valley Tiling was established in 2016. For the first three years, work focused almost exclusively on the company owner’s land.
“Those first three years, we really developed the fundamentals of high-quality, high-efficiency tiling,” Domonoske said. “Investments were made in equipment and new technology. We did a lot of due diligence on the front end. We developed steps to make the whole process more efficient. We learned new things every day that got us to our goal of doing the best job we possibly could designing and installing the most efficient subsurface drainage systems possible.”
Last year, the company began to offer its way of doing things to other farmers — and with great success.
“When we’re contacted about doing some work, we immediately begin our due diligence process behind the scenes,” Domonoske said. “We look at soil maps, we study percolation rates, we look at historical photos and we analyze LiDAR data.”
LiDAR data is imported into drainage software to create a topographic map of each field, Domonoske said.
“We are then able to draw a tile design that can be customized based on what the landowner wants,” he said. “We pride ourselves on being as accurate with the technology as we can be, which allows us to create the most efficient system possible.”
That emphasis on efficiency extends from the design phase to the installation phase, Domonoske said.
“Our equipment and our processes allow us to maximize efficiency during installation,” he said.
The plow is equipped with an onboard stringer, improving efficiency, reducing compaction, minimizing tile damage and eliminating tile stretch. When feasible, Sioux Valley Tiling also plows both ways — up grade and down grade — creating better tile connections, reducing compaction and boosting efficiency.
“We also use a unique tile line closing process that accelerates the settling process and gets the field back to normal faster,” Domonoske said.
Domonoske said demand for tiling has increased over the last couple years with the wet growing seasons the region has experienced. And as Sioux Valley Tiling continues to work at building a reputation for quality, Domonoske only expects that demand to increase.
“We take pride in what we do,” he said. “We treat every field we tile the same as we would treat our own land, all the while realizing every field is different. We do one job at a time. We strive to offer an honest, trustworthy and customized approach to helping farmers get the largest return on their investment. And I think the work we’ve done speaks for itself.”
 

Millborn meeting demand for cover crop seeds

Cover crops are continuing to gain in popularity, both in the region and nationwide.  The number of acres planted in cover crops in the U.S. increased between 2012 and 2017 by about 50 percent to 15,390,674, according to the most recent Census of Agriculture. The number of farms planting cover crops also grew during the same time period by about 15 percent to 153,402, Millborn meeting demand for cover crop seeds “I think it’s definitely increasing every year,” said Alex Guttormsson, foraging cover crop specialist at Millborn Seeds in Brookings.  The growth is due in large part to an increased focus on soil health, according to Walker Sik, Millborn Seeds agronomist and seed production specialist. “Cover crops are often associated with soil health,” Sik said. “That just goes hand in hand.” Walker and Guttormsson said demand for cover crop seed was particularly high last year due to
the wet weather that had farmers looking for alternatives to plant on prevented plant acres. “We went through a lot more than what us and other businesses normally go through in a year,” Walker said. Guttormsson said planting cover crops in prevented plant acres kept soil microbes alive and active in preparation for the next year’s crop. It also allowed farmers to produce feed for livestock when they couldn’t grow their traditional crops, so they still yielded benefit from the land. Guttormsson said Millborn Seeds has prepared for another year of high demand for cover crops in case 2020 is another wet year. “I think other companies are too and I think that will keep prices in check across the board across the nation,” Guttormsson said.  Walker said Millborn Seeds has an experienced team that
matches customer with the right product.  “It depends on what you’re planting the following year or what it was the year before, or if you have any issues within that field that you’re looking to solve that a cover crop could help with,” Guttormsson said. “There are just so many different variables that we try to hone in on and direct each grower to what we think is going to work best for their situation.” Brassicas, legumes, grasses and broadleafs are among Millborn Seeds’ cover crop products. Because there are so many variables, the men said there is not one particular best seller. Instead, mixes of various seeds sell well, with each seed
within the mix bringing different benefits for the health of the soil and grazing.  “That is something that varies so much throughout the years,” Guttormsson said. “Within this industry there’s not a whole lot for consistency.” Millborn Seeds provides seed to customers primarily in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska, but has also sold their products all over the country.  In addition to cover crops, the company, which began in 1987,
sells seed for forage, conservation, wildlife, turf and commercial use.
“An easy way that I like to sum it up to people is that we sell about anything and everything but corn and soybeans,” Sik said. Sik said Millborn Seeds grow much of its own seed and acquires some directly from producers or from other seed
companies.

Redefining the seed industry

Jackson-based SureFlex Hybrids is redefining the seed industry.
Founded four years ago by Mitch Rowe, the company began offering hybrid seed corn commercially in 2019. Since then, Rowe said his company’s focus on high-quality, low-cost seed has resonated with farmers across the globe.
“What we are doing is an entirely new concept in the seed industry,” Rowe said. “We are 100 percent independently owned and we own 100 percent of our own seed. We develop the varieties, grow and package our own seed and sell it directly to the farm. We do everything from start to finish ourselves.”
The unique business model eliminates corporate rules and regulations, trait royalties and seed licensing fees, Rowe said, along with layers upon layers of personnel costs.
“We’ve really sought to remove all the layers of fat in order to keep our prices low,” Rowe said. “We have no district sales managers or dealers. We take it directly to farmers. That helps us be able to offer our seed for between $60 and $100 per bag less than the big guys.”
And, in the current ag economy, that’s proven popular with farmers.
“There is a huge amount of interest in our product,” Rowe said, “and we have a competitive advantage in the marketplace. As we look at current market share and growth potential, the upside is just phenomenal. Already, we have not just a national footprint, but an international one.”
And SureFlex Hybrids is responding to the up-swell of interest.
“We launched commercially last year with nine hybrids geared mostly for a northern grower base,” Rowe said. “We’re offering 27 total hybrids in 2020 ranging from 81-day to 115-day. That can cover most of the growing areas in the United States. And we have another 54 hybrids in testing right now.”
Rowe attributes the early success of his young company to two things — his product’s price point and a growing disaffection among farmers with corporate seed giants.
“I think farmers are sick and tired of corporate America continually adding to the cost of inputs,” Rowe said. “What we offer is an alternative to that — a product that yields and will make farmers more money, too. It’s an alternative that’s drawing a lot of interest.”