It may not have the same feeling as the arrival of the Sears Catalog back in the old days, but the 2020-21 Pioneer Hi-Bred catalog has just been published. Different from yesteryear, this catalog comes to you digitally – as a PDF file. The print version will still be available for those that prefer to sit down at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and a pair of reader glasses and leisurely browse through the newest hybrids and varieties. The PDF version provided below is great for use on smart devices where you can zoom in to see the small print and digitally “flip” through the pages. (Note: this catalog version is for South, Central and North Texas and Oklahoma.)
I know, having a seed catalog available in August seems early. The thing is, for those of us further to the south, planting begins as early as January and grain harvest is nearly over by August. So, with plot results and field data fresh at hand, reviewing and talking about what to plant next year in late August and September is not unreasonable.
Nearly everything is here in this catalog – Corn (grain and silage), soybeans, sorghum (grain and forage), alfalfa, sunflowers, inoculants and seed treatments. Even the major crop protection products offered by Corteva Agriscience are included. Twenty pages of full bliss from an all-American company!
For students of salesmanship and marketing, I encourage you to compare the 2020 catalog to the 1946 catalog that I highlighted a few blogs ago. The formatting, photos, vernacular, etc. are quite different. Publishing styles and technologies have certainly changed over nearly 75 years – along with prices and yield.
It won’t be long before your sales representative visits again. Study the new catalog before he or she arrives. Be prepared – have your farm data available with field by field summaries if possible. Yield data from local plots may also be helpful and can be viewed at Pioneer.com (no, we don’t win them all). And don’t be afraid to ask for input from the Pioneer agronomist. Rumor has it that they’re very knowledgeable.
(Note: I’m an agronomist working across the fruited plains of Oklahoma and down through north, central and south Texas. This blog is specific to that geography.)
Corn, specifically continuous corn (monoculture), is predominantly found throughout central Texas. These acres can host two major corn rootworm species: Mexican Corn Rootworms and Southern Corn Rootworms. Other areas tend to have more crops in rotation – sorghum and cotton to the south and pasture and alfalfa to the north – and have fewer incidents of crop damage from rootworms. Yes, wheat is grown throughout the region and can break the lifecycle if taken to grain but likely not if planted back to corn after being cut for wheatlage/silage (which is done primarily in the dairy-concentrated area around Stephenville, TX.)
The main rootworm specie that causes the most damage is the Mexican Corn Rootworm (MCRW). Without adequate control, it can cause significant economic damage nearly every year that corn is grown continuously. Yield damage can be as much as 40 bu/a or more and is manifested in lodged, stressed plants and reduced ear size. Fortunately for growers, insecticidal Bt traits control this pest. In the absence of traits, planter-based insecticide applications and some seed treatments can provide control, albeit sometimes limited under high pest pressure. Growers can easily scout for adult beetles around pollination time and assess potential damage for the following year’s crop. (I know, I know, it’s hot that time of year and nobody wants to be in corn field when it’s over 100 degrees. Trust me on this, it’s worth it!)
The other rootworm specie that can cause damage is the SouthernCorn Rootworm (SCRW). While the MCRW can be an annual pest, SCRW might be a problem one in only seven or eight years. Unlike the MCRW, outbreaks can not be predicted since it has so many hosts and overwinters as an adult rather than as larvae. The thing to remember about SCRW is that no commercially available Bt traits in 2020 have any effect on them. The primary form of control is insecticidal seed treatments.
Unfortunately, having a name in common with the other rootworm species makes it easy to think that plant-based Bt traits should control the SCRW but it is an exception that can be an absolute thorn in a grower’s side. It can be expensive to add seed treatments. Sure enough, the year the grower decides not to spend the money on controlling SCRW, there’s an outbreak and replant is needed in several fields, resulting in added expense and potentially reduced yields. UGH!
There are several websites, extension publications, seed industry articles, etc. on these pests. Should you like more information or have other questions, don’t hesitate to holler at me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Going through some files I came across a summary that I had put together about the adoption rate of hybrid corn in Greene County, Iowa. It was based on a survey of growers that asked about the factors that influenced them to use hybrid seed (versus saved seed from open pollinated plants) and how long it took for them to plant it on all their acres.
This summary is adapted from a 1943 article, The Diffusion of Hybrid Seed Corn in Two Iowa Communities and was published in Rural Sociology by authors B. Ryan and N. Gross. Here are their basic findings:
The authors surveyed 257 farmers to explore how they first learned about hybrid corn, the sources from which they gathered information about the merits and performance of hybrid seed and how long it took for them to adopt it on 100% of their acreage.
On average, it took approximately five years to adopt hybrid corn after first learning of it. After first using it on the farm, it took only about three years to adopt it on 100% of their acreage.
The farmers “original” knowledge, or awareness, of hybrid corn came primarily from salesmen (49% of the farmers cited salesmen), neighbors (14.6%), Farm Journal magazine (10.7%), radio advertising (10.3%), relatives (3.5%) and the Extension Service (2.8%).
The farmers “most influential” source for causing them to plant hybrid corn were the neighbors (45.5% citing them as most influential) with salesmen a relatively close second (32.0%). All other sources registered less than 7%.
80% of the adoption of hybrid corn occurred in approx. 5 years, from 1933 to 1939 (see figure below).
Very few technologies in any sector of life see an adoption rate like this. It is quite remarkable, really. Similar acceptance was seen with specific biotech traits in plants but readers will be hard pressed to list many others, especially in agriculture. Horses to tractors? Nitrogen fertilizer usage after WWII? Atrazine or 2,4-D in the 1950s or 1960s? Wouldn’t it be fun to sit down with Dad or Grandpa and hear about what they experienced?
There are countless books and articles in the public domain about hybrid corn. The people, the seed, the science – it’s all out there for the curious to consume. Enjoy!
Hybrid corn is the result of a cross of inbred parents – a male that provides the pollen and the female that produces silks and ultimately the ear. The ear is then processed through a series of steps in large seed production plants. For North America, most of the production fields are scattered throughout three or four states in the Midwest region. This is done to allow handling of large volumes of various hybrids and to spread out risk associated with damaging weather events.
The technologies involved in this process are fascinating and complex and have evolved over time. For brands like Pioneer and Dekalb, sales have increased substantially since they entered the business in the 1920s – from a few dozen bushel sacks of seed in the beginning to several million bags and boxes in North America alone. When you consider that hybrid seed production can be much less than half of commercial grain production, you realize the scale in acres and processing that are needed to source farmers their seed for planting season.
Because of the Midwestern location of most production fields and processing plants, most growers across the south and southwest have never seen a seed production plant or the processes involved. The production plants can be very large and use sophisticated scheduling and throughput strategies to ensure efficiency but yet with a final goal of producing high quality seed. It is never lost on production plant employees that seed is a living organism. It has to be handled in a way that allows growers to plant it five or more months later with the expectation of near perfect germination and growth.
Pioneer Hi-Bred (Corteva AgriScience) has created an animation (see below) that shows the steps involved in processing hybrid seed corn. Different from commercial corn grain production, hybrid seed corn is harvested on the ear, complete with husk (similar to sweet corn) with grain moisture that is often over 40 percent. Special harvesters load trucks with whole ears and the trucks then transport them to the processing plant. After a myriad of processes, high quality seed is bagged or boxed and stored in refrigeration. There, it awaits a customer order after which it’s shipped to the seed dealership or direct to the farm.
Obviously there’s a great deal of expense and expertise involved. Pioneer Hi-Bred holds several patents for processes and machinery that are highly specialized. It’s a source of pride knowing that very few issues arise due to seed quality issues. Production goals are high with seed germination almost always in the mid to high 90s (percent of seed that germinates) for seed corn. Of course, the environment in which the seed is planted can have a significant impact on germination and early season growth, but Pioneer Hi-Bred has done everything it can up to that point to ensure success.
(I enjoy history, especially that of the seed industry. Every once in a while I will scan a catalog and offer up a .PDF version for your enjoyment.)
Stepping back in time, here’s the seed catalog for the year following the end of World War II. You’ll find on page 2 (inside of the cover page), the mention of William Landgren. I thought it was very kind and professional of Pioneer to include the name of a staff member who was still serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. While folks at home were taking care of business, so too were William and thousands of others that served. I’m proud that they chose to include him in the catalog.
When William returned to Pioneer, it was the beginning of a grand era of American agriculture. New advancements in farm equipment, pesticides and other inputs were exciting as resources that were severely limited for wartime support were now made available for public consumption. Rubber tires and steel are good examples of this. The economy boomed as did seed sales to support the return to full time farming.
The seed catalogs from the 1940s and 50s (other companies included) are some of my favorites. Almost all included images of full-size ears so that customers could see the shape and quality of the seed. Throughout the 1940s, corn was still being husked by hand so farmers were still interested in ear shape and husk cover. Modern catalogs might include pictures of field scenes but rarely will they include images of ears. Lets be honest, seed companies today sell dozens of hybrids and there just isn’t room. We have to leave enough space for other stuff – replant policies, digital resources, sales program information, seed treatments, insect and herbicide traits, research advancements, etc. Also, we sell more than corn; there’s also sorghum, soybeans, wheat, sunflowers, canola, alfalfa and silage inoculants. Unless we want to return to the days of the Sears catalog, you can understand why catalogs have evolved into a series of tables and charts. Websites and social media platforms are where you find the images. (Are you familiar with @Pioneeragronomo on Twitter?)
Check out the characteristics table on pages 8 and 9. Most notable is the “EARS PER STALK” row in the bottom section of the table. Optimum populations for hybrid corn in the 1940s was between 15,000 to 19,000 plants per acre. For at least 75 years, hybrid corn has almost always produced just one ear on the stalk. Hybrids 322 and 355 sometimes put on two! Remember, also, that the common row spacing back then was 40 inches.
What’s refreshing throughout this catalog is the upfront honesty in describing the hybrids. For hybrid 373, “occasionally subject to stalk breaking in late fall… For hybrid 379, “occasionally root lodges.” A sales representative today practicing good seedsmanship will inform customers of potential weaknesses but almost no company will say it directly in print. (Rather, you can infer a product weakness by looking at the ratings.) Know this – many a customer will show loyalty to a brand and to their local sales rep that continues to support their well being by providing sound, honest knowledge of the products.
Another notable mention in this catalog is that of corn rootworms. In the lower left corner of page 6 that describes hybrid 353-A, there’s a picture of Karl Jarvis, pathologist, standing by a “valuable” plant that withstood severe corn rootworm conditions. I’ve never really thought about how long the Corn Belt region has had to battle this pest. Evidently, it’s been a very long time! It’s an interesting pest that now infests cropland across a large area of North America and more recently Europe.
Finally, folks are sometimes surprised at just how long replant policies have been provided by seed companies (see the back cover of the catalog). Frankly, they’ve been offered almost from the beginning of hybrid seed sales – either as part of a competitive strategy or out of kindness and understanding of how brutal Mother Nature can sometimes be. Over time, customers have come to appreciate this policy as replanting can be very expensive and stressful, to say the least.
Feel free to share this catalog with others and enjoy the history behind one of the oldest brands in American agriculture – Pioneer Hi-Bred.
After six years and 5,000+ followers on Twitter (of which one-fourth were women and bots who mistakenly thought agronomists were wealthy), and a change in job responsibilities, I decided it was time to refocus my energies on social media. Frankly, I wanted to separate personal life from work and give others an opportunity to step up and take the lead on providing agronomic expertise for the growers. Too, as followers grew, I found myself spending entirely too much time muting and blocking folks that were basically trolling, getting threads completely off target and otherwise wasting my time. So I shut down my main Twitter account (@texasagronomo), set up a new one for my woodworking hobby (@tejaswoodworker) and set about refocusing my role on social media platforms.
So we start anew with @Pioneeragronomo in a new job role – that as Product Agronomist covering from Oklahoma to the Rio Grande Valley. This account will continue to support Pioneer Hi-Bred (@PioneerSeeds) and Corteva AgriScience (@CortevaUS) and will focus only on agronomy. Nothing else. And, based on previous experience, I will be quicker to mute or block the drama queens and non-believers in Pioneer genetics and won’t bat an eye or lose a second of sleep in doing so.
(I enjoy history, especially that of the seed industry. Every once in a while I will scan a catalog and offer up a .PDF version for your enjoyment.)
Here is the 1963 seed catalog of Pioneer Hybrids. It was mailed to growers in a plastic mailing bag with an overall size of 6.5 inches by 9 inches. There’s a cover letter from Garst & Thomas (distributors of Pioneer seed back then) dated 1962 but the catalog actually has descriptions of products for 1963. This is due to the fact that seed is typically sold in the fall after harvest of the current year but picked up and planted the following spring.
Along with the catalog and cover letter is an information card and a plastic bag that measures 14 inches tall by 20 inches wide. The bag has a colorful farm scene printed on it and was meant to store stuff in it or even be used for freezing foods. I’ve had several folks share with me that their mom often filled this bag with baked goods and sent it off to college with them. But being a prized possession, they were instructed not to return home without it!
Of course, the catalog is important. The bag was a customer give-away that was very practical for home use but the catalog had the information growers wanted. It highlights the current hybrids that are proven as well as new hybrids that a grower might want to try on a few of his acres. You’ll find “good rules” for growing corn and sorghum on the inside back cover. Notice point 9 where the use of DDT granules is recommended for control of corn borers! (For folks not familiar, DDT was banned decades ago as a known carcinogen.)
Finally, the pages that most likely were studied more than any other in the catalog are pages 9 and 12. These are the charts that show all of the hybrids for sale in the region and various characteristics. This is where growers can see the relative maturities and whether the hybrids have the agronomic characteristics they need for their farm. Still today, these charts prompt growers to call their sales representative and ask about hybrids they’re not planting.
For an historical perspective, download the scanned items and catalog and make a side-by-side comparison with modern catalogs (younger growers will enjoy this exercise). I find it interesting to see how descriptive language has changed for the physical makeup of hybrids and agronomic characteristics. For example, “stiffness of stalks” in 1963 is now “stalk strength” in 2020. And “length of shank” is not used anymore, at least not by Pioneer.
A parting thought – like hybrids over the years, communication styles have certainly changed. In 1963, who would have thought anyone would be “blogging” about their Pioneer catalog in 2020?
I want you to do well. ~ph
P.S. Having worked in the seed business for a little over 20 years, I’ve observed seed companies transition from printed catalogs to digital catalogs and then actually do both in an attempt to reach as many people as possible on different platforms. The current thinking is that the younger generation of agricultural producers strictly use their “smart devices” (i.e., smart phones and tablets) to gather information. However, owing to the fact that a high percentage of a producers are over the age of 55, there’s still a need for printed material as this generation is mostly not interested in smart devices and navigating the internet.
Pioneer Hi-Bred (founded 1926) long ago established itself as a premier educator and creator of educational materials about most things dealing with crop breeding and plant growth and development. Printed material and various other formats have been used over the years to share information with growers. Since the early 1930s, numerous seed catalogs and pamphlets, or booklets, have been published by Pioneer Hi-Bred. This blog highlights one published in 1950 – The Corn Plant of Today.
Countless publications, videos and web pages can be found that describe the corn plant. Information on growth stages, management strategies, diagnostic guides, research papers, etc., can be found with a quick search on the internet. But, in 1950, knowledge was found only in people and printed materials made available through the cooperative extension service of land grant colleges, USDA agricultural agencies and private industry such as Pioneer Hi-Bred.
Collaborative efforts often lead to private industry publishing pamphlets with joint authorship with university extension specialists and professors of various disciplines. The Corn Plant of Today is a classic example. It was written by Edgar Anderson of Washington University who was a highly respected and published botanist. What I enjoy most about this booklet is its casual presentation – it feels like you’re having a conversation with a botanist! He makes the reader consider questions about what a corn plant should look like. It’s the same question breeders are always asking of customers and agronomists. As in, “does today’s corn plant meet the needs of the grower?”
They’re violent, loud, dangerous, destructive and often are precursors to tornadoes. Hail storms. The average hail storm lasts less than a couple of minutes but depending on the intensity and size of hail stones, damage can vary from barely noticeable to total crop destruction.
Hail damage to crops basically comes down to these questions – will the plants survive and, if so, will yield be affected? In my experience, more so for corn, the most noticeable effects of hail damage are three-fold: twisting of the leaf canopy, leaf loss, and stem bruising.
Twisting of the leaf canopy is the result of leaves being shredded by hail stones with the shredded remnants being wrapped or twisted by excessively strong winds. (This phenomenon is more prevalent in young corn, usually V6 or smaller.) The reason this can impact plant survival is that the newly emerging leaves in the whorl can’t advance as the plant recovers. Survival rates of plants can improve if the dying, twisted leaves can somehow detach from the plant, making emergence of the new leaves possible. The impact on yield depends on plant death (stand loss) and distribution down the rows (plants that recover quicker can shade out and out-compete adjacent plants.)
Leaf loss is the most obvious effect of hail on plants. The leaves are the photosynthetic factory – capturing sunlight and converting it to energy that supports plant growth. Believe it or not, there are times when complete leaf loss will not impact yield. Such is the case in corn where leaf loss up to about V3 is not detrimental. Reason being, this is before ear development commences and the plant is still dependent on the seminal root system for support.
Whorl or stem bruising is often overlooked in assessing hail damage. Hail stones are dense and hard. Young corn plants, however, are tender – very little lignin formation has occurred and so a somewhat rigid stalk rind has yet to develop. As the winds bend over the stalks, the lower sections are exposed and vulnerable to being struck by hail stones. The thing to remember is that the growing point is near or above the soil surface around V5 or V6. If the stone penetrates deep enough, it can bruise and kill the growing point. When this happens, the plant is finished. A sharp knife (and the appropriate protective gear) can help determine the depth of penetration of a hail stone. The growing point should be near white while a damaged or dying growing point will turn brown.
As with most storm events, its too wet to do anything in the field afterwards so the best advice is to wait and assess plant recovery over a period of about a week. Give the plants time to recover! In the meantime, don’t hesitate to call your seed rep and agronomist and get their opinion. Here are some other resources for various crops:
“It’s just a pencil,” they say. “They,” are the ones who have no interest in understanding the history and development of not only a writing utensil but the advertisements placed thereon. For some folks, the pencil is a tool, precisely shaped and containing “lead” that is the exact hardness, or softness, for the task at hand. They are willing to pay good money for quality and they’ll use every inch of it. For others, it’s simply a writing instrument that can be bought in bulk and frankly couldn’t care less if it broke or was lost for eternity in the couch cushions. For the purveyors of mechanical pencils, the smoothness of the action and an abundant supply of stick lead are the priorities. But in today’s world of smart devices, writing instruments are falling out of favor as “notes” can now be recorded using apps or voice recognition.
Pencils were important to me early in life. In second grade, I had an affinity for picking pencils up off the floor and putting them in my desk. No, I didn’t bother asking my classmates if they belonged to them. If it was on the floor, it was mine. You might imagine a collection of pencils that filled nearly half of my desk. My teacher noticed. She promptly let everyone go through my desk to repossess their lost pencils. I was devastated. Only a handful of pencils remained in my desk. I was sure my mother sent me to school with more than that but the argument was lost on the teacher. Mrs. Stone was her name. And I still have a strong dislike for her.
I’ve often wondered how modern pencils reached their exact shape and composition. I took drafting and art in high school and quickly learned that the thickness of a drawn line matters and how the downward pressure you applied made a difference on the lifespan of the point. This became very evident while learning shorthand. Yes, I was the only guy in my high school class who took shorthand. And, yes, I was faster than the girls and I took it at a rate of 110 words per minute. PRIDE! The thing I learned was that writing efficiency increased when you applied just enough pressure to lay the lead down thus allowing you to move the across the page quicker and easier. (When applied to a pen, light writing pressure prevents the strokes from pushing through the paper and making it all harder to read.)
I also learned that pencils don’t really contain lead. They may have back in the day but now they contain graphite. If you’ve noticed over time, advertising and our day-to-day conversations have lost the word “lead” (rightfully so) and either omit it or use “graphite” in its place. Of course, some pencils don’t contain either but those are not real pencils in the eyes of the purist; they’re something else. Oh, the erasers might have been made of real rubber back in the day, but no more. Now they’re made of synthetic material that doesn’t smear the graphite and last a lot longer. Given society’s attitude toward all things disposable, you rarely find a pencil anymore with the eraser worn down to the metal ferule and replaced with a push-on pencil topper eraser.
Advertising on pencils has also evolved. Some of the most memorable and effective marketing was employed by Ritepoint back in the 1950s and 60s. Ritepoint was an advertising firm based in St. Louis, Missouri, but they were notable for the way they incorporated display tops on mechanical pencils and pens. The photo below shows several gems featuring various agricultural crops. The clear plastic tops contained actual seeds or commodities (such as sugar on the far right) but they also used castings that simulated containers or sacks. An example is fourth from the left which is a sack of Pioneer Hi-Bred corn seed. You can also find ones that look like oil cans (for various petroleum companies), soft drink cans and bottles, hot dogs and concrete blocks floating in a liquid-filled top and various other items. So cool! Their mechanisms were relatively simple and the inside of the barrel contained a place to store sticks of lead and an eraser, both accessible by pulling the top section off.
You will rarely find writing utensils designed like this today. In my world of agribusiness, marketing strategies mostly budget for pens of various designs and colors. They are cheaply made owing to the disposable attitude mentioned earlier as well as the marketing objective to get as many as possible in the hands of consumers. (Why spend a lot of money on an item that will get tossed into the trash or lost in a short period of time?) Most advertising on today’s pens is a simple print stamp that wears off easily. Of course, you’ll only find that out if you keep it around for longer than a few weeks.
“What about advertising on today’s pencils,” you ask? I honestly have no idea. Hardly anybody gives them away anymore. Apparently, they’re made only for elementary kids who can’t be trusted with ink or keeping their hands to themselves.