Plenty of hallway concerns were voiced about skyrocketing seed prices by attendees at the recent National No-Tillage Conference in Indianapolis, Ind. With many new high-tech developments and traits creeping into corn genetics, seed corn costs have already reached $200 to $250 a bag and some no-tillers are scared that prices may move quickly toward $500 a bag. They say higher seed prices may have a serious impact on plant populations, especially with no-tilled soybeans.

Steep Seed Increases

Taking advantage of soaring grain prices last spring and summer, Monsanto increased the price of its high-valued seed corn by an average of 15% to 20%. In addition, company officials expect to boost seed prices by as much as another 25% this year. Many other seed companies quickly followed suit.

But now that grain prices have come down, Wall Street investment analysts say the company’s aggressive pricing strategy could backfire. They believe growers may be tempted to switch to brands with lower prices or to companies offering market-building promotions.

At the conference, several speakers talked about reducing no-till soybean rates from as much as 225,000 to only 100,000 seeds per acre without any loss in yield. But they made it clear that attendees need to evaluate different seeding rates under their own cropping conditions.

Non-GMO Benefits?

There was also talk among attendees of taking a closer look at raising non-GMO crops due to increasing high-tech seed prices.

A good example is the on-farm research done this past year by Worth & Dee Ellis Farms at Eminence, Ky. This study compared five corn hybrids available both as non-GMO hybrids and as closely related GMO sister hybrids. Mike Ellis says all of the GMO hybrids outyielded their base hybrids by 2.5 to 25.5 bushels per acre.

Since it requires the same amount of fertilizer and no-till planting equipment, why shouldn’t you grow GMOs instead of using the old technology corn? Ellis says one reason is that GMO seed can cost three times as much as non-GMO hybrids. Plus, he and his brothers are earning a 40-cent-per-bushel premium for delivering certified non-GMO corn for sale to foreign markets.

“These two factors add up to almost twice the income increase from the additional yield for the GMOs,” Ellis says. “But the bottom line is that the non-GMO corn hybrids still produced better net returns than the GMOs.” Yet, he cautions that the economic picture would be different without a significant non-GMO premium.

So when it comes to figuring out how to trim no-till seed costs this spring, you may want to pay closer attention to your population rates.

You may also want to take the time to pencil out the pluses and minuses of going with older-technology seed corn.  Going backwards this spring just might put more dollars in your bank account.