What Do Field Signs Mean?
It’s the last day of July and in central Illinois the crops look amazing. The possibility of another record harvest is real and so it’s not surprising that farmers and input suppliers want to brag a little about the bountiful corn and soybean crop. You may have noticed then the numerous signs along the fields. These display the brand and variety of seed that the farmer chose to plant in that specific field and serve as excellent publicity for the seed manufacturer.
Brand publicity in the world of apparel might be the Nike swoosh on your shoes, the Wrangler name on the back pocket of your jeans, or the Coach logo on a purse. In the world of agribusiness, these signs exist for much the same reason: to create interest in the brand and variety. For example, if the Smith farm planted Acme’s variety X and the field looks great, then you can bet the Jones farm will be interested in doing the same next year. The signs do not mean that the seed manufacturers (the leading three companies in the United States are Monsanto, Pioneer, and Syngenta) own or manage that ground, it simply means that their seeds where purchased by the farmer to be planted there. During the growing season, these companies provide farmers with signs and encourage them to post them around their best looking fields.
After harvest (November/December), farmers sit down and decide which fields had adequate yields (the average number of bushels harvested per acre) and make management decisions accordingly. One of these decisions is which variety of seed to plant where. It’s not as straightforward as simply picking and choosing though as there are countless brands and varieties to choose from, all of which have their pros and cons (price included). Certain varieties might have historically performed better in certain soil types, while other varieties depend on the average daily temperatures in critical months such as June and July (there is a significant difference in temperatures between northern and southern Illinois). I would compare it to jeans shopping. First you need to decide which store you are going to shop at, then the brand you want, and then you make a decision based on price/style/color/length.
Depending on varieties, a bag of seed corn in the Midwest can retail for $300-350/bag and soybeans for $50-75/bag. On average, one bag of corn covers 2.5 acres and one bag of beans covers 1 acre. If a farmer manages 1,000 acres, it’s simple math to see that seed is a major investment.
So the next time you are driving around admiring the abundant harvest, keep an eye out for these signs. At Mackinson Dairy, for example, we are currently displaying NK (the brand belongs to Syngenta) signs along many of our fields.