Opportunity knocks and Ralph Sandeen answers
BY BROOKS TAYLOR
Mt. Pleasant News
Ralph Sandeen might have been a farmer, like his father, had it not been for opportunities to travel a different path.
Sandeen, however, has no regrets as he marks 20 years, filling the corn and soybean seed needs of his customers from his dealership on the north edge of Mt. Pleasant.
“It was an opportunity put to me,” he said, referring to his Pioneer Seeds dealership. It was the same opportunities that enticed Sandeen away from the farm. Prior to being a professional seed dealer, he sold animal feed and then chemicals and fertilizer.
However, he isn’t completely divorced from the farm. He’s what you might term a “hobby farmer,” farming 40 acres to test the varieties of seeds he sells.
Seed sales is much more than grabbing bags and loading them into the bed of a pickup, he said. He also acts as an advisor to the producers.
“Producers want the best-yield varieties for their production,” he began. “I guide them to getting the best yields for the soil in which they are planting the seed. We are blessed in Henry County to have good soil.
“I also ask them if they have specific needs,” he continued. “Some ground has high fertility and other low fertility. I ask them if they know of any pests or disease that require a certain type of technology that we can match them up with.”
Most farmers, Sandeen noted, have a fairly good idea of what they want. “Some varieties have a certain chemical tolerance. For example, Bt corn is resistant to the corn borer. Technology has been such a benefit to weed and pest resistance.”
He said that genetics have made such a difference in varieties. “The stocks and roots have improved a lot and so has the population (of plants per acre). In the past 30 years, the population (of plants) per acre has gone up from 20,000-24,000 to 30,000-36,000 plants being planted per acre. Looking back over time, the varieties have shown such vast improvement in plants and roots. That has enabled producers to go to higher population and get more bushels per acre.”
According to Wallace Farmer, some other things that producers should be cognizant of when choosing hybrids for planting are:
Mixing up the maturity in seed selection. This will allow you to hedge against the effects of mid-summer heat during pollination and to capture genetic gain due to increased maturity.
Looking at your seed portfolio the same way you look at your financial portfolio. That is, shoot for balance. For instance, you wouldn’t place every penny you have in overseas stock accounts. You also don’t want to put all of your bets on one particular hybrid only because it’s known for high yields or on another hybrid because it’s known for root and stalk strength. Planting both defensive and offensive hybrids helps manage your risk and increase overall yield potential.
It’s wise to have a portfolio that is diverse in genetic sourcing. That is very important, so performance can be balanced and risk managed.
Overall, the best way to manage risk is by planting more than one hybrid on your farm and by selecting more than one trait package to maximize overall yield.
Sandeen said area farmers generally settle into six to eight varieties that are most likely adaptable to our area. In most of those varieties, herbicide and insect resistance is included due to technology. He is a firm believer in technology, saying that technology in hybrids pays for itself.
He has a number of second-generation customers and as he reflects over his chosen career path, he still muses about what it would have been like to farm.
When he reflects on his decision, he again says that opportunity was a significant factor in his decision. “I could have tried to rent ground, but there was tough competition back then. This was my opportunity to stay in the community and be involved in agriculture. I have always liked our community and the people here. Agriculture sales created that opportunity.”
The seed business is always changing. Sandeen said the largest change he’s seen is the constant evolving of varieties, relating that Pioneer has seven or eight new varieties every year.
Producers began ordering their seed for the next growing season in September of the prior year, and he said most customers have done their ordering by the end of December. However, a few still finalize their selection in January.
Although technology, equipment and research have led to better yields for farmers, Sandeen said success all comes down to one variable. “Mother Nature still decides what yields we are going to get.”