Seed gets delivered in a variety of packages. Years ago the 50-pound bag was a so-called industry standard for most farm seeds. Then along came kernel count and the 80,000-kernel seed bag for seed corn which, depending upon grade size, sometimes could be as small as a 38-pound bag.
In the late 1980s bulk bags or mini-bulk for soybeans started catching on. That gave the grower the choice of a 2,000-pound bulk soybean seed tote bag.
Today you have a third choice: true bulk, which implies semi-load deliveries — 1,000 50-pound unit equivalents — of your soybean seed directly into special bulk seed bins right on your farm.
“Continual changes in efficiencies is what we’re seeing because that’s what the grower demands,” said Gary Wietgrefe, TruBulk specialist at Syngenta’s Sioux Falls, S.D., office. “Basically it boils down to a time issue ... the minimum amount of time for filling the planter is really the key. It started with soybeans. Now we’re seeing seed corn move the same direction.”
He reported new belted seed tenders can fill planters in 5 minutes when it normally takes 20 minutes or more to fill a 12-row planter with bags. That 15 to 20 minutes “saved time” several times a day can mean 20, 40, 60 or more acres planted each day with the same planter and tractor. Plus the farmer can plant longer hours simply because he is not worn out from lifting and throwing individual seed bags.
For firms like Precision Soya, with seed conditioning plants across the Midwest, bulk packaging and handling of seed has been a standard for years.
“We’re doing 75 to 80 percent in mini-bulk and now another 10 percent in true bulk. And true bulk increases each year,” said Julie Olson, general manager of Precision Soya of Minnesota, which annually conditions thousands of bushels of soybean seed for various seed firms.
At its Minnesota location, Olson said hard boxes are rapidly taking over for the collapsible soft bags. These containers handle either 2,000-pound or 2,500-pound soybean seed volumes.
For major seed handlers, the hard box offers two major advantages. “We can stack them three high. Going vertical greatly increases our warehouse capacity,” Olson said. Plus with the hard box, you eliminate the need for pallets which get to be nuisances for both farmers and seed dealers.
Equipment drives packaging
Seth Kveno, field sales manager for NK Brand-Syngenta Seeds, indicated the rapid change in planting equipment is a key driver behind the seed industry’s move to bulk packaging. “The new center-fill planters are pushing seed handling toward bulk, just as air seeders did in the Red River Valley. Faster delivery and 24-hour accessibility to meet the needs of today’s farmers is what bulk seed handling offers,” Kveno said.
Safety is also an issue, particularly comparing the new hard boxes with the bulk bags still being used. “Many seed dealers dump these 2,000- to 2,500-pound (bulk bags) on to conveyors every day. The scary part is that these bags are released from the bottom, which means they have to be raised by the hydraulics of a forklift,” Kveno said. “When I was a seed dealer working at a co-op, I absolutely hated positioning myself under those bags while loosening the knot that would open the chute to release the seed.”
Acceptance of bulk seed handling has been significant. Syngenta’s Wietgrefe indicated almost 95 percent of NK brand soybean marketed in the Great Plains regions of the North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and the Red River Valley of Minnesota are now bulk delivered.
“These growers got used to handling their wheat seed in bulk. As air seeders came on with good mechanics, the advent of Roundup Ready soybeans was coming on in this same region and growers already handling bulk wheat were eager to go bulk with their soybean seed also.”
The ‘ins and outs’ of bulk hard boxes
• Hard boxes are owned by the seed companies with the usual expectancy being one use per year.
• Hard boxes go out to the customer with a typical $450 deposit, which is refunded when the seed box is returned to the dealer. Actual costs of these hard box units are about $450 so this charge is basically a recovery cost.
• Freight becomes a factor in seed containers also. For every box of Q-BitPlus (NK’s hard box) that goes out, there’s a half truckload of Q-Bits that come back. When empty these boxes “fold down” into about half the space needed when they are full of seed. Thus true bulk has a decided freight advantage.
• There are no returns on soybean seed, regardless of the seed company. Unsold soybeans at the dealer level at the end of the year are generally sold by that dealer to his local elevator as a commodity.