Ohio farmer Rob Joslin is not taking chances with his corn seed, despite assurances that seed companies emerged from this summer's devastating drought with adequate supplies.
Joslin, who grows corn and soybeans in western Ohio, began buying seed in August, months earlier than usual, to lock in the best-yielding varieties. Farmers are "concerned about getting their seed varieties, especially corn," he said. "It may not be there come December 1."
Coming off the worst drought in more than half a century, farmers in the United States are scrambling to get their hands on the best corn seed this year to ensure they plant a bumper crop next spring. Their success could be pivotal in keeping food prices stable across the globe.
Two of the nation's leading seed companies saw the risk of a shortage coming and boosted seed imports by up to 20 percent to guarantee supplies.
With plans to plant a massive number of acres to corn for a second year, farmers want to avoid last year's struggles to find some top-performing varieties that were scarce after poor weather reduced production.
The drought reduced harvests again this year in the United States, which accounts for one-third of global corn exports, and lifted corn prices to record highs, pinching livestock producers who use the crop for feed and companies that crank out ethanol.
At the height of the price surge this summer, there were fears of a devastating food crisis like in 2007/2008 when riots broke out in some countries and the ranks of the chronically hungry ballooned by 75 million according to United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization data.
But seed supplies are sufficient this year, according to sellers like DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto, which dominate the $12 billion agricultural seed business in the United States. Companies say expanded corn plantings compensated for yields that were down 25 percent or more, and they cite timely rains in certain areas for helping avoid severe crop losses.
Seed supply is crucial for next year as top-performing varieties have the best chance of producing the large harvest needed to replenish low corn inventories and bring relief from high prices. While saying the total supply is adequate, some companies warn the quick pace of early sales could leave slow-moving farmers planting varieties that do not perform as well in adverse conditions.
FEELING THE SQUEEZE
Seed companies large and small have their eyes on supply after back-to-back years of depressed production.
Total U.S. corn production this year is estimated at a six-year low of 10.725 billion bushels, 27 percent less than the U.S. Department of Agriculture's initial estimate last spring.