Mor to the story

Written by Allison Jenkins on .

 

John Pat Samson has been producing soybean seedstock for so long, he doesn’t worry about the beginning or ending of its story. For more than 25 years, he’s focused on the middle chapters—growing and harvesting—not the seed’s origin or final destination.

“I’m so used to this, I don’t really think about the fact that these beans will be growing on someone else’s farm one day,” Samson said as he harvested a field of MorSoy 3922 seed this past fall near Marshall, Mo. “I just try to raise the best crop I can, keep everything clean, control the weeds and do a good job of combining the beans. That’s what I’m concerned about.”

He’s not alone. Most farmers don’t contemplate the complex process of seed production as they get ready to plant each spring. They may not realize that seed’s journey begins long before it reaches their farm—from genetic selection, field testing and evaluation to production, harvesting, conditioning, packaging and delivery—not to mention stringent quality control procedures every step of the way.

When it comes to MFA’s own proprietary brands of seed, there’s even more to the story. That’s because MorCorn hybrids and MorSoy varieties are tailor-made for growers in MFA’s trade territory and backed by the support and expertise of a highly trained agronomy staff. Plus, that seed is delivered along with all the products, technology and services needed for today’s row-crop production.

“The overarching premise in our MorCorn and MorSoy lineups is to have best-in-class products that can compete in the marketplace while performing very well in our geography,” said Steve Fleming, MFA Incorporated Seed Division director. “We have a customized approach. Our replicated trial system touches every part of our trade area, so we are really dialed in to the different soils and environments and are able to give growers products that fit their farms.”

The seed saga begins during the fall and winter, when Fleming, MorCorn and MorSoy product managers and agronomy personnel meet with the nation’s largest genetic providers to select hybrids and varieties that have potential to perform in our region. In the spring, those selections are planted as experimentals in replicated trials across MFA’s trade territory and evaluated throughout the growing season. At the end of the season, these plots are harvested with specialized equipment to scientifically measure yield and other characteristics. The accumulated data is used to base decisions on whether a particular hybrid or variety is worthy of joining the product line.

Nearly 40 soybean varieties and 37 corn hybrids were tested in 2017, Fleming said. Out of those, typically only 10 percent advance to the seed production stage. The products that make the cut are grown one season for sales the next. In other words, the seed being produced in 2018 won’t be ready for growers to purchase until the spring of 2019.

“We’re looking to find hybrids and varieties that make a total package for the farmer,” said Tommy Lee, MorSoy product manager. “We have our workhorses and our racehorses and everything in between. We don’t just try to sell one or two products. It’s a portfolio. That helps a grower spread his risk.”

In his previous role as salesman for MFA Agri Services’ LaBelle group, Lee said he’s seen the popularity of both brands grow among producers. Since the MorSoy and MorCorn lines were launched, they’ve built a solid reputation for quality across MFA territory, and market share continues to increase.

“It really comes down to performance,” Lee said. “We’ll run with anybody. MFA brings a full approach to the farm, not only seed but also chemicals, fertilizer and other inputs the farmer needs. When you can bring the whole spectrum to cover that farm, it sets us apart from other seed companies. Nobody else is doing that.”

This time of year, Fleming and the MFA Seed Division staff are focused on getting seed orders to MFA locations prior to the spring planting rush. After that, their priority is putting together seed production plans and working with the MFA agronomy team to design replicated trials.

“Once that’s done, we get to the fun part—getting to see the new experimentals in the field and comparing them to what’s in our current lineup,” said Adam Noellsch, MorCorn product manager. “It’s pretty neat to watch the product growing in the plots and evaluating what it’s doing throughout the season.”

MFA works with leading seed production companies in the Midwest to produce the varieties and hybrids that will be offered in the MorSoy and MorCorn product lines. All of MFA’s soybean seed is grown in Missouri, while corn is produced here and in surrounding states.

Once MFA’s seed staff decides how much of a particular product they want to sell the following year, the production companies contract with a hand-selected group of farmers to grow and harvest those orders. It takes a special kind of grower to produce seed, said Steve Blalock, president of Mid-State Seed, where many of MFA’s MorSoy varieties are conditioned and packaged. MFA Incorporated is part owner of this operation based in Marshall, Mo., as well as Cache River Valley Seed in Cash, Ark. MFA also has a longstanding relationship with Bullard Seed Co. in Ashland, Mo.

Seed production requires that all the equipment used to plant and harvest the crop is thoroughly cleaned so there’s no cross-contamination of varieties or traits. Once the seedstock is planted, the production companies take responsibility for scouting the fields during the growing season to make sure the crop is meeting expectations. Weeds, insects and disease must be controlled, and harvest must be completed in a timely manner to ensure quality.

The extra effort is rewarded with a premium price, Blalock said. Mid-State works with growers in Missouri to produce between 45,000 and 55,000 acres of soybean seedstock each year.

“There’s a lot to it,” said Samson, who grew 1,200 acres of seed beans for Mid-State in 2017. “You have to keep everything separate. You have to keep everything clean. You have to flush your combine and grain cart. It takes more time and effort, but the premium makes it worth my while. Plus, I know I have a place to go with my beans, and I don’t have to pay for storage.”

For MorCorn seed, the process is a bit more complicated, explains Steve Grenier, field production manager in southern Iowa. Seedstock fields must be planted and detasseled according to precise instructions, ensuring the right arrangement and ratio of female and male plants to create the desired hybrids. Throughout the season, field specialists monitor the corn for issues that could jeopardize seed quality. Unlike soybeans, which are harvested just like grain, corn seed is harvested by the ear with specialized picking equipment.

“We provide our growers with the inbred seed, planting instructions and supervision during the entire planting process,” Greiner said. “It is critical to make sure the planting is completed correctly. If split planting is not done correctly, male or female seed is mixed or in the wrong row, the seed will not be usable because the purity of that hybrid will not meet standards. Planting is the first step in many to provide a quality product.”

That care extends to the conditioning plant. Every truckload of seed—both corn and soybeans—is sampled upon arrival. Those samples are sent to third-party quality control labs to assay such attributes as germination, varietal purity and technological traits. Once the plant gets the go-ahead from MFA to start processing, the seed goes through a series of procedures to clean, sort and package it in bags or mini-bulk containers. Seed is also delivered to farmers in “true bulk” form for loading directly into tenders.

“The conditioning piece of this process is all about taking out the bad stuff and leaving the good stuff,” Fleming said. “We set minimum standards with the processors on corn and soybeans, and it’s up to those folks to work with their growers to ensure that the quality is maintained.”

December, January and February are the busiest processing months, Fleming said. Shipping to stores begins as soon as orders are ready, typically wrapping up by mid-April. During that time, Seed Division personnel also evaluate data from MFA’s replicated trials, making new product selections and starting the story all over again.

“We utilize our agronomy Training Camp at Boonville for testing and education, and then we have a replicated trial in all 11 MFA area sales managers’ territories,” Fleming said. “This work allows us to take the emotion out. A product either performs or it doesn’t. It’s about as unbiased as I know how to make it. We literally let the data speak for itself. We’re not trying to pick favorites. It has to perform.”

One of MFA’s replicated trials can be found each year on the farm of Brent Foreman near Clarence, Mo. The grower, who farms with his son, Jarrell, raises 1,000 acres of soybeans, 600 acres of corn and red Angus cattle. Beyond the test plots, Foreman said he also includes MorCorn and MorSoy products in his personal row-crop portfolio, not only because of their proven performance but also because they’re his cooperative-owned brand.

“I like seeing how the hybrid and variety numbers perform against each other and their competitors, and then I have that firsthand look at the ones I want to plant on my farm,” Foreman said. “I trust the MorCorn and MorSoy brands because they’re designed to work here in our area, and I see that every year on my farm. I had a MorCorn hybrid this year—4319—that was the best corn we planted, averaging well over 200 bushels, and MorSoy 3944 made over 70 bushels. They’re as good or better than anything in the marketplace.”

Every chapter in the story of MorCorn and MorSoy seed contributes to that kind of confidence in the brand, Fleming said.

“Growers want to know that they are buying a high-quality product, and when they purchase a bag of MorCorn or MorSoy, that’s what they can expect,” he said. “We’re giving growers access to a broad range of traits and genetics that they know will perform on their farms. It really is all about giving growers more yield, more expertise and more choice.”

For more information about MorCorn and MorSoy and to contact your area seed expert, visit www.mfaseed.com.

See MorCorn and MorSoy seed production in action through two new videos below.

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