By Elizabeth Niven
As the constant rain soaked eastern Canada in the spring of 2011, Monsanto’s sales, manufacturing and operations teams were scrambling behind the scenes to address an epic redistribution of seeds because of the weather conditions affecting corn farmers. The extreme weather delayed planting and flooded fields already planted. Many seed orders were no longer appropriate given the conditions on the ground and, in many cases, replants were necessary. In some cases, soybeans needed to replace corn.
“Typically, a very small percentage of farmers have to substitute one corn hybrid for an earlier one because of weather-related issues in any given year,” said Mark Kerry, Monsanto Canada’s DEKALB sales manager. “2011 broke all those ‘norms.’”
In the southern regions of Ontario and Quebec, corn is usually planted between April 20 and May 30. For the farmers who got into the field to plant before the rain, some fields were flooded out. Kerry reported a record number of replants. “Normally, we replant about 5,000 acres of soybeans and 4,000 acres of corn. In 2011, we replanted 15,000 acres of soybeans and 20,000 acres of corn,” he said.
That was in addition to the number of farmers who simply didn’t get into their fields until June.
“We didn’t do much replanting in our area,” said Rick McCracken, farmer dealer with DEKALB. “A few of my customers were able to get into their fields and plant early. Those were the fields that drained better and didn’t flood. About 50 percent of the farmers around here had to wait until early June to plant.”
McCracken lives in the southern tip of Ontario on the land that forms a bridge between Lakes Erie and Huron. He farms more than 2,000 acres and has more than 60 customers. On a map, his town of Melbourne is located midway between Detroit, Michigan, and Toronto, Ontario. The average corn crop yield in the past 10 years for that area is 150 bushels per acre, although it has been edging up in recent years with improved DEKALB seed.
McCracken explained that in the past yield would drop off dramatically if planted late. “After May 1, the farmers would calculate losing one bushel an acre per day,” he said. “Planting 40 to 50 days late, well, we had never experienced that.”
Farmers had a financial incentive to plant as much corn as possible because of high corn prices. Each day of waiting raised the risk of losing corn yield. Once the rain cleared and the fields dried, farmers had to make quick decisions and select the best seed that would mature in enough time to give them a decent yield. Many times they relied on the information from their seed dealer, who often had little experience with earlier maturing varieties. After waiting for more than a month, farmers had just a few days after making a purchase decision before heading out to the field to plant. The Monsanto DEKALB team reordered, reshipped and moved seed, from dealer to dealer and territory to territory to support farmers’ replant decisions.
“Sometimes there was enough variation in planting conditions to move seed just 50-60 miles but we had one truckload from Quebec that traveled 500-600 miles to get the right seed to us,” said McCracken. In all, the team shipped an additional 50,000 units of seed into the market, over and above an already aggressive shipping plan.
In most years, weather events can cause slight changes to initial seed selection or create an environment for replanting. That’s expected in a weather-dependent business. But the volume and variations over such a large swath of Eastern Canada was unprecedented.
In the end, the farmers were pleased with the 2011 crop. “Ten years ago, we would have considered our corn crop lost. Instead, some of us were seeing 160-170 bushels an acre with good harvest moisture and grain quality. No one was more surprised than our farmers,” said McCracken. “I attribute this years’ success to our ability to get the right seed at the right time, exceptional summer and fall weather and improvements in the hardy, hybrid seeds – especially those with early maturity.”
Kerry attributes the success in the field to the responsive and capable team that helped the farmers get what they needed when they needed it ahead of competitors. In fact, the flexibility and willingness that the Monsanto team exhibited earned the DEKALB brand one share point of growth (12,000 units). As an added bonus, the farm community and their customers recognized and appreciated Monsanto’s efforts, especially in a year when, as McCracken describes, “Corn is king.”