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Corn+Soybean Digest

What's Your Time Worth?

The Schoers' spring calendar is as tight as anyone else's when it comes to planting. The Wabasso, MN, farm family, consisting of father, Eldo, Jr., and brothers Jeff and Brad, have a philosophy when handling seed: “The less labor we need, the better off we are.”

The 1,800 corn and soybean operation has utilized bulk beans in the past and 2001 was its first foray into bulk seed corn. Both have worked well, especially from a time-saving perspective.

“Usually, we had two people filling the planter with bags and it took 15-20 minutes,” Jeff Schoer recalls. “In corn, that's not so bad because you fill two to three times per day and that's it. But in beans, when you fill every 30-40 acres, the time really adds up.”

Schoer's quest for time savings also lead him to design and build a bulk seed handling system that operates on rails mounted to a flat-bed trailer. With the new system, one person can fill the planter in just under 10 minutes. It's another step into efficiencies that help the bottom line.

As a seed supplier, Dan Schmitz, manager of the Slayton, MN, division of Schmitz Grain, sees first-hand how those efficiencies impact customers. “Guys just don't have as much time. As they get bigger and want to cover more ground, bulk is where it's at,” Schmitz says.

Those experiences reflect a recent online survey conducted by Soybean Digest. The exclusive survey asked soybean seed purchase intentions for 2002 planting, and in what form the seed was purchased. Sixty-one percent of respondents say they buy all or some of their seed in bulk. And further, 55% say that over half of their seed purchases are in bulk form.

The bulk trend has nearly reached its maturity with soybeans for Schmitz' operation. “Two years ago we averaged around 50% of our seed sales in mini-bulk. Now we're easily over 70%,” he says of the family seed, fertilizer and grain handling business that operates in three locations in southwestern Minnesota.

The only reason it's not 100%, Schmitz says, is issues with returns on bulk orders. “We encourage customers to buy a majority in bulk, then finish planting with bagged seed,” he says. “It works out better most of the time because a customer has more flexibility to switch if he needs to, and returns are easier to process with bags.”

While mini-bulk, in either the bulk bags or bulk boxes, has been the mainstay, “true bulk” is emerging as a growing trend. In the online survey, 31% of farmers who bought bulk soybean seed for planting in 2002 purchased it as “true bulk,” utilizing tenders to pick up seed at the dealership.

It's a trend that Schmitz wants to capture for their operation in 2002 or 2003. “It's a business decision we definitely need to look at. It's not a cheap investment, but I know we could increase our seed sales 10% just by having true bulk available. Guys are ready for it,” he says.

Whatever the trends, Schoer's satisfied with his system that provides benefits beyond time. “It just makes spring a lot easier and more enjoyable when you're not constantly throwing 50-lb bags around.”

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