F2F Genetics Network in the Field: Michigan Farmer David Halsey Lowers Seed Cost with Conventional
David Halsey is a farmer from Adrian, Michigan. His 700-acre farm includes 250 acres of hay, 350 acres of row crop and a cow-calf operation that raises feeder calves for the show industry. This year, Halsey decided to give conventional corn a shot on his farm for the first time. We talked to him about making this decision and what it’s been like for his operation during a challenging crop production year.
Sally Krueger, FBN: Tell me about how you decided to grow conventional corn this year?
Farmer David Halsey: When I heard that FBN was coming out with a seed brand, I was intrigued. Seed was one of those things that was always a huge expense for me, and I did question whether I needed all those traits, but I wasn't familiar with conventional corn. So when you guys came out with a conventional option, I talked to my FBN rep, and he reassured me that raising conventional is not as scary as it sounds. So, I tried it, and this year I'm 100 percent FBN corn and bean seed.
SK: Did you have to change your chemical plan for conventional corn?
DH: Yeah. Not spraying glyphosate was a big change. I had to apply more residuals, especially with my soybeans. It's critical to get multiple modes of action down. I tried to have at least three this year. You have to start clean, and in a 100 percent no-till operation with cover crops, it's hard to do that because you want it growing until you want it dead. But I will say, since I use cover crops, I don't have nearly the weed pressure. I guess, for me, the biggest change was making sure I had a really good burndown program and lots of residual.
SK: How do calculate ROI for your farm? What does it take for you personally to determine where to start with your seed selection based on where your finish line has to be?
DH: When I think about ROI, I look at my input cost and my labor cost, and I use that to determine what I have to get to break even, then I decide what I can and can’t do. And it just wasn't working out with the traited stuff. I mean, you might have to get 170 bushels (on corn) just to break even—that’s not going to happen on my farm.
On my farm, with its soil types, I'm never going to grow 250 or 300 bushel corn. If I can get 170 or 180 bushel corn, that's a good year for me. I have to base my seed decisions on my return on investment. Why would I want to spend $350 a bag for all these traits, especially if it's only going to yield 170 or 180 bushels. Why not raise a conventional seed? If it's within 10 bushels, for the lower cost, it's worth it for me to do it.
Price was a big factor. The conventional corn seed was a third of the cost of traited seed. Having a resource at FBN who could reassure me that we could do this and having the support on the chemical side was a big help.
SK: What would you suggest to a farmer in your area who is thinking about trying conventional corn, or going back to conventional on some acres?
DH: I would say try it on a few acres. I keep my operation in a rotation, so I don’t have a lot of the worry about the bugs and rootworm and that type of thing. You just have to try it, because it will be different for every farm. Some people are corn-on-corn and may need traits to protect their yields.
It's not as challenging to control the weeds as you might think. It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be to control pests. I guess I’ve been pleasantly surprised. So far, it’s easier than I thought it would be.
SK: Do you think you'll keep growing conventional corn in the future?
DH: Yes. My concerns were put to rest, and now I’m working to see what kinds of premium I can get for conventionals. That would make them even more lucrative to plant.
SK: You’re also growing F2F Genetics soybeans this year… tell me about your experience growing these soybeans so far this year.
DH: I planted all 2.5 maturity soybeans this year, and they are all the first-generation glyphosate-tolerant varieties from F2F. I plant on 30-inch rows with my corn planter, so I’m able to lower my populations. They emerged really well. Even though some of them went in kind of wet and the trenches didn't close the best, it looks like every seed germinated. They’ve still got some time, but they got off to a really great start.
SK: What is your weed control plan like for these beans?
DH: Like I mentioned earlier with corn, the residual is very important. The biggest change in my chem plan was adding more modes of action there. Previously, I used one, but now I do three modes of action. And, I was more adamant about starting clean. I beefed up my burndown program, so that I didn't have any escapes or any weeds out there when I started. We have a pretty prevalent mare’s tail issue in this area. If it gets going, it's hard to control.
SK: Do you feel like you were limited on seed options before you started using the F2F Genetics Network?
DH: No, I think there have been a lot of options for buying seed, maybe too many. What has bothered me is the lack of transparency as to what’s actually in those bags. With different companies selling the same seed in different bags, under different names, it just seemed so dishonest to me. With FBN, I could get past the mystery of genetics and traits, and be just a few steps away from the breeder. So, I think there's a lot of options out there, the key is knowing what’s right for your farm and your ROI. That’s what we needed.
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