Harry Stine has been called one of the richest men in Iowa. He is the founder and president of Stine Seed Co., one of the top soybean seed companies in the U.S., and holds close to 1,000 patents for seed genetics in soybeans and other crops, including corn. Farm Industry News met with Stine last fall at the Ag Innovation Showcase, where he was keynote speaker.
How might a typical Midwest corn and soybean farm look different in the next five years?
As you well know, farms are going in two directions — smaller and larger. So the person who has an off-farm job and is an evening or weekend farmer with what used to be an average size farm but today is a small farm — those people do very well. They don’t have extra labor costs or fancy equipment costs, and it works. Other than that, farmers will need to have large operators. Operators of these larger operations are very intelligent, very competent, very ambitious, and those are the people who prevail.
What is the next “gee-whiz” technology in corn? And how can farmers take advantage of it?
They will need to change their equipment. We think they will need to go to twin-row 20s. The reason we are promoting twin-row 20s as opposed to 12 or 15 is that they require expensive, specialty corn heads. Do you want to pay for a special, expensive corn head and then not have dealerships around to support it? No. The 20-inch corn head is a standard head that is available through multiple companies including John Deere and Case IH, and they all have dealerships all across the country. That is why we moved to that system. The system also will allow for new kinds of genetics. You could theoretically today just stop at 20s, but you might as well go and do it right if you are going to change your equipment.
Any other changes like that with equipment?
I make all kinds of analogies. “People normally plant corn today in 30-inch rows, and then they put the plants this far apart [5 to 7 inches]. Does that make sense? Why plant rows this far apart [30 inches] and then put the plants this close together [5 to 7 inches]? A twin-20 planting configuration provides an average row spacing of just 10 inches, and even at high populations (55,000 plants per acre), the spacing between plants within the row is still approximately 12 inches. So now plants are 10 to 12 inches apart on all sides for more equidistant spacing, which is good no matter what.
But then you have to have genetics that are specifically selected for that [spacing] and that are designed for the higher populations. It is a system. It is not any one thing. And farmers have to adapt. And incidentally, the narrow rows help for both corn and soybeans. So the nice thing is, if you switch to this planting system, it works for both crops. And it increases the yields of both plants.
How close are we to offering this ecosystem?
Today. We have a special deal right now. We have the exclusive distributorship of John Deere 60-foot and 40-foot twin row 20 planters, as well as the 40-foot planters from Great Plains. So today we are telling farmers, if you switch to this system, we will cover two-thirds of the cost of that planter to incentivize you to move in this direction.
So Stine’s contribution to this system is the genetics to work with this planting style?
What is your best advice for growers?
People are always reluctant to change because it is our natural inclination. So that is why we are incentivizing people for one year only. It is a one-year-only deal. A year or two later, when everyone says I should have done that, I’ll say that’s right, you should have, and I’m not willing to help you. The people who are willing to go with us, we are willing to help.
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