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Jennifer Ewoldt

Jennifer Ewoldt, Rural Route 4 columnist

Well, as I write this column, snowflakes are blowing past my window. Definitely not what I wanted to see at this point in April. I am thankful that we did not get the blizzard conditions that some out west experienced, but snow in April is still not a nice sight. It’s really put a damper on all spring planting plans.

Across Iowa, I know that many farmers have their planters ready to go, but there’s no end in sight to this weather, so we continue to wait. Our corn and soybean seed arrived this week, so I guess we are now officially ready to go, but not until the weather cooperates. There is, of course, some field work to do before planting can actually start, like applying fertilizer. As most of you know by now, we do not do spring tillage, being a no-till farm, so we skip that step in the spring.

Today, let’s talk a little about seed. There are many seed companies out there selling corn and soybean seed. Each year, farmers must choose which companies to buy from, and which types of seed to plant. It’s much like planting your vegetable garden – you go to the store or look online and choose the brands and varieties of seeds. Perhaps you choose three kinds of lettuce and two kinds of beans. We do the same.

We only plant corn and soybeans, of course, but there are many varieties of both. Some require longer growing seasons than others, so we choose only those appropriate to our area. Some have a history of being very good producers, so we might choose those. Others may be better in our type of soil. Then, there are the choices between varieties that are resistant to diseases or pests. If those diseases are historically a problem on our farm, we might choose those ones. If they aren’t generally a problem, we might skip those varieties.

Of course, some farmers have a particular loyalty to a particular company, while other farmers choose a variety of seed from several companies. It’s totally up to the farmer to choose. No one forces us to plant one thing in particular. Some choose to grow only organic crops, some grow non-GMO crops, some GMO crops, and others grow a mixture. It is always a choice, and often depends on the available markets. The one thing we generally cannot do is keep seed from one year to plant the next year. I talked about this before, I think. Keeping seed to plant violates laws about plant patents and reproducing a patented variety. It also means that you are no longer planting a hybrid crop, so you often lose some of the production ability of the plants. That may have been what was done many years ago, but we no longer save back seed to plant the next year.

Interestingly, unlike those of you who peruse your seed catalogs each spring to make your purchases, we made our decisions during last year’s harvest. Our seed is ordered months in advance, so we sometimes have to make the decision before we finish harvesting. Robb spends time browsing through his seed catalogs – they just don’t have pretty pictures in them. It’s all numbers and research and performance data from previous years. He also relies on our seed dealer for information about what’s growing well and what’s not. There’s a lot to consider when making these purchases – and a lot is at stake!

I am going to go back to looking through my seed catalogs and garden magazines, dreaming that someday soon I will be able to do my own gardening, as well as the farming. Keep your fingers crossed that the weather finally turns in our favor.

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