South American seed production offers challenges, benefits

By Steve Woodall, production, Production Contract Administrator, AgReliant Genetics

Producing seed corn in South America for U.S. corn growers offers some unique benefits and challenges. AgReliant produces seed in Argentina and Chile for several reasons. Genetics and traits in the seed industry are moving ahead faster now than they ever have. Having a second production cycle each year offers the opportunity to provide our customers with a better supply of the newest products and also gives the chance to increase supply of our best products. Parent seed is also produced in South America in order to bring new products up to commercial production levels faster.

A common practice for winter production is for parent seed produced in the U.S. to be harvested, conditioned, quality tested, shipped to South America and planted in a matter of a few weeks. The parent seed traveling to South America is flown down on commercial passenger flights and regular air freight lines. From the time the seed leaves the AgReliant Genetics parent seed plant until it is planted can be as short as five days.

Why Argentina and Chile? Argentina offers an arid climate similar to the western United States and is very well suited to produce 105 day and later maturity hybrids. It also offers vast growing areas where large fields and widespread isolations are possible. All seed production fields in Argentina are irrigated to insure against extended dry periods. The Argentina producers used by AgReliant are equipped with modern dryers and facilities to provide the same gentle handling and high quality seed that can be produced here in the U.S. The widespread growing areas are often served only by dirt roads and the harvest season tends to be rainy some years. The transportation system sometimes causes delays in harvest, but rarely more than a day or two. The dirt roads are well drained and packed harder than many paved roads and trucks are back on them within a few hours of the rain stopping.

The climates in Chile are suitable for early season hybrids and offer the same isolation opportunity as Argentina because of the widespread fruit and vegetable production. Many of the seed fields are part of vegetable rotations. The fields in Chile tend to be smaller due to the geography and Chilean farmers also tend to operate on very few acres. Due to the climate in Chile being very stable but dry, irrigation for all crops are necessary. The water supplies for the irrigation are systems of reservoirs and channels that capture snowmelt that are then used for flood irrigation. Pivots are becoming more common in Chile, fed by the same channels. Transportation issues are also a challenge in Chile, but for different reasons than Argentina. The roads that serve the farms are narrow, winding and gravel, thus not allowing the use of large equipment. Most farms operate with 60 horsepower and less tractors, 4 or 6 row equipment and trucking is all done with straight trucks.

Once the seed fields are harvested, the processing equipment and quality standards are identical to the U.S.’s facilities. In both countries, harvest begins around the first of February and lasts into March.

Seed corn is harvested and dried on the ear and shelled at 12% moisture. After shelling the dried kernels off of the ears, they are packaged into poly bulk bags (the same polybags that are sometimes used for soybeans) and are containerized for shipping back to the U.S. A vast majority of seed containers are shipped back using ocean freight due to the quantities involved. A freight liner from Argentina takes 25-30 days to arrive in the U.S.   Shipping from Chile averages a faster travel time of 13-19 days because of the access to the “fast boats” that are used for shipping fresh fruits and vegetables. Upon arrival at the U.S. port, the containers are unloaded and sorted so AgReliant can selectively send different lots to different AgReliant plants depending on geography and customer’s needs. From the U.S. port to the plant varies from 1 to 7 days depending on customs clearance and the volume of seed coming in on any specific vessel. Samples of each seed lot are flown back the AgReliant Quality Assurance lab for testing while the bulk of the seed lot are still in transit. By taking the extra expense to fly samples back the U.S. prior to the ships arrival allows AgReliant to have the quality analysis done before the freight ships arrives in the U.S., expediting delivery to our customers. In a best case scenario, seed arriving in the port on Friday could be in a customer’s planter in less than 1 week.

Winter production in South America requires intensive management and coordination from the Sales, Foundation, Production and Quality departments here in the U.S. and with our growers in South America. Everyone involved is committed to ensuring that our customers are supplied with the best products in the seed industry and the best quality possible on a timely basis. Next time you hear that your seed is being produced in South America, take a moment and reflect on the challenges and opportunities that are associated with winter production.

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