It’s true, farming is a continuous cycle: plant, hope for a good growing season, and harvest. But are seed choices cyclical too? Certainly not. And does it border on insulting for someone to insinuate that you choose seed out of habit? Yes.

There are a couple of common misconceptions by the media and by today’s consumers.

  1. Farmers do not have the freedom to choose the seed they want.
  2. And farmers plant “GMO” seeds because it’s what they’ve always done.

Mother Jones published an article on July 10, 2013, expressing that farmers plant “GMO” – seeds with genetically modified traits – out of habit. However, this isn’t quite true. Do farmers plant seeds with insect or herbicide resistant traits? Yes, many do. But they have the ability to choose from which seed company they purchase their seed, and they also choose the product that works best for each field.

Farmers are business people and quite smart when it comes to the decisions they make on their farms. Most farmers today have college educations paired with on-farm experience – both help them to make optimum decisions for their land and animals.

It only makes sense for farmers to plant the product that works best for them. When it comes to choosing their seed, they work with the company of their choice and sit down with their seed sales professional. From there, they review their fields and look at their specific needs – studying field data.

Farmers keep extremely accurate records. They look at field data that includes a great deal of information.

  • The previous year’s crop. Depending on the crop from the previous year, there may be a need for different nutrients – in other words, the type of fertilizers that need to be applied. Some crops naturally add fertilizer to soil. For instance, if a farmer had alfalfa on a field and then decided the next year to plant corn – alfalfa naturally adds nitrogen back into the soil.
  • Crop protection applications. Did a specific field have an insecticide application or herbicide treatment – and where and at what rate (how much) in that field was it applied. This often comes in the form of a printout from the applicator’s GPS, which is part of a tractor or sprayer’s GPS computer system. Looking at past crop protection applications can be an indicator of pest or weed challenges for that field.
  • Agronomic notes. What types of pests (i.e. bugs) were particularly bothersome? Farmers also take into account the winter’s weather conditions. Some pests survive during mild winters, creating increased potential for pests during the growing season. Wet springs can increase the potential for soil fungus and other challenges. Farmers can then make seed choices, looking at hybrids or varieties that respond well in these circumstances.
  • Soil data and fertility. Depending on soils, some hybrids or varieties will perform better. Crop breeders today have bred crops to perform better in sandy, silt, heavier soils, etc.  Additionally, farmers often take soil samples so they can apply the right types of fertilizers at the right time. There is absolutely no benefit to applying – and paying for – a fertilizer that may not be warranted.
  • Yield data maps. With today’s technology, farmers can print off performance maps taken through their combine’s GPS systems that show how each field performed. In some areas of a field, it may hold water or the soil may be different. These factors can change the type of seeds they choose for a given part of a field or how many seeds per acre to plant.

Farmers take all these factors into consideration as they work with their seed sales professional to choose the right seed. And in some cases GM seeds may be needed, and in others, in-plant traits may not be needed.

Choosing seed traits go beyond genetic engineering, too.  Seed companies gather multiple years of data, across growing environments and score hybrids and varieties for various types of characteristics. For instance, farmers use their field data and look at seed company crop scores for stalk strength, seed emergence, drought tolerance and more.

As you can see, lots of things go into consideration when choosing the best seed product. Farmers choosing seeds out of habit, is like making important decisions about your financial portfolio without researching them first. It only makes sense to do the research.

Seed choices are endless and continuously growing and improving. Farmers are business savvy and it only makes sense for them to pay for what they need, and to choose the right product for each acre.