Thursday, November 29, 2007


I have for last few weeks been bombarded by test plot data from seed corn companies. We're all pretty used to it. But I have decided to peer into this form of persuasion from another angle, thanks to a suggestion from a friend.

OK, consider these announcements:
-DEKALB is delivering better yielding seed to corn farmers: According to
more than 14,000 comparisons taken during 2007 harvest, DEKALB corn
seeds delivered an average of 8.4 more bushels per acre yield compared
with genetics from leading competitive national corn seed brands. This
margin widened to more than 12 bushels per acre in hybrids planted in
the 110-day relative maturity zone, the area which comprises the top
corn-producing states in the Corn Belt (e.g. Illinois, Indiana and
Iowa). [More]
- ummm...
Shoot - my whole premise just evaporated.

I looked for similar broad statements from other companies like
Pioneer (need registration), AgriGold, Garst, Becks, NK, and Golden Harvest. You know, the kind of stuff you hear in commercials: "IN UMPTEEN-THOUSAND COMPARISONS OUR BRAND WON XX% OF THE TIME"

Result: Did not find any other statements like DeKalb's.

Note: Some sites had detailed local comparisons, but I could not find a similar overall (national) announcements - doesn't mean they aren't there, just I couldn't find them before my attention span ran out.

Another off-topic note: Beck is offering free refuge corn. At last, somebody in the industry is taking refuge seriously. Given that refuge-in-a-bag is around the corner, why not encourage refuge planting with seed that has an extremely low marginal cost and short future? Kudos to them - and I hope it is a precursor to a new approach to seed marketing.

Yet another note: It could be their traffic is really low, but as more people get linked into company websites to actually choose to read the stuff we toss away everyday in the mail, why not upgrade those sites, guys?

The clever point I thought I was going to amaze with was how every company seems to "win" their test plots. I'm not harshin' their communications people, but my impression of statements like the above is I have heard it before from everybody. The weasel-words of modern marketing have diluted the power of statistical evidence to the point that producers who did not take Stats and Prob 101 are pretty cynical: "figures don't lie, but yadda yadda".

For example, in some Lake-Woebegone-syndrome, all seeds seem to above average - agronomic traits from 1-10 wind up with the averages being 9.8 for hybrid selection. Agronomic "grade creep" masks for me any true comparative information.

I guess the question is do such claims create any response from you on your farm. I readily admit this post hasn't turned out the way I thought, and the Monsanto claim could be more impressive than my skepticism will allow. My only nitpick is this: when talking about "over 14,000 comparisons" it should be clear if this represents all the comparisons or were they cherry-picked.

Mostly, I think reading a statement like that "primes" us to process local data differently. "Don's DK corn made 25 bpa more than mine right next to it" suddenly can seem like evidence of a much wider phenomenon. (That actually happened, BTW).

Do national test plot summary data work for seed sales? My answer - maybe, but the effect would be pretty hard to parse out from all the information inundating us. My hunch is Don's experience will affect my choice more than any other influence.

Which leads me the to the coming seed price war. More later as formulate my case for market share wars in the seed industry.

[Thanks, Darren]

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