How can I learn about and collect images of the seed signs that are posted along large agricultural fields?
August 31, 2009 10:46 PM   Subscribe

Agriculture Industry Filter: After a recent drive across the mid-western United States, I became very intrigued by the variety of signs along the road that seemed to be trademark or branding markers for the types of seeds being grown in the various fields. (1) Does anyone know the purpose of these? (2) Seen a collection of them online? or (3) Know how one might properly refer to them in order to go about collecting images of them?
posted by refractal to Law & Government (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you mean signs like this, this and this?

If so, you're correct in that the numbers identify the company and the seed variety being grown - basically the numbers are a company inventory/item number. I've only ever heard them called field signs though, and I don't know of any collections, so I'm not going to be much help at all. I did find those three pics by doing a Google image search with the terms 'seed field signs' - you'd probably find more by adding seed company names to the search terms.
posted by faineant at 11:20 PM on August 31, 2009

D'oh me - one of those signs came from this site, which is a collection of corn seed signs. If you like the corn seed signs, here's a collection!
posted by faineant at 11:29 PM on August 31, 2009

"... (1) Does anyone know the purpose of these?..."

Farmers who use hybrid and/or GM seed are usually required by their seed company to identify fields that have been planted with patented hybrid or GM seed, so that effective detasseling can be done, to prevent wind drift pollination, and control the spread of the patented gene stocks. It's usually a violation of the seed agreement for farmers to save seed from hybrid/GM seed planted fields, too, so the seed companies employ yield analysts to estimate the volume of corn produced by customer fields, and to check that the farmer is selling or storing the crop appropriately, not diverting it for subsequent seed use.
posted by paulsc at 1:11 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

The purpose is advertising. Generally, wherever you see a thicket of those signs, you will, at some point late in the summer, see a tent and a BBQ set up for a field day. Farmers drop by for free food and to check out the new varieties.

Side benefit is that farmers driving down the road see a nice stand of corn and in front of it, an advertisement for the company that markets/produces it.
posted by bricoleur at 4:01 AM on September 1, 2009

More on the purpose of the signage.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:51 AM on September 1, 2009

We always called them seed signs. Their purpose is advertising. The name and words and numbers on them tell those in the know how to get seed for that corn from their local seed provider.

There are fields where you'll see a lot of them, usually at corners, or places where the locals slow down. Those are test plots. Every year, seed distributors/sellers hire farmers to be test growers for new hybrids. The farmer will plant and grow 25-50 rows of each variety, and at the end of harvest will be able to give the seed seller information on how the corn grew, etc. He's also advertising the new varieties to his neighbors.

There are other fields where there are only one version per field. Those are just plain advertising. While *now* they may be legally required as paulsc says, it has long been common for farmers to put signs up along the road sides of their fields. (I've known seed reps who would throw in a road sign when a seed order reached a certain amount.)
posted by jlkr at 6:28 AM on September 1, 2009

Yeah, I agree with those who are saying it's for advertising. If my dad had a particularly nice crop of corn growing in a field, the local elevator co-op or seed corn salesman (wherever he got his seed) would notice and ask if they could place some branding signs out along the field. Dad would usually consent and those signs would be placed every couple hundred of yards or so.

This is an extremely effective form of advertising, because farmers spend a lot of time zigzagging across the countryside and they keep an extremely close eye on who planted what when, how it looks and whether or not it will likely give good yields. They will be quick to notice a field full of flourishing crop and will definitely note the brand and variety if the signs are right there.

I don't know where you would find a repository of these. Saving images of them on the internet doesn't seem like something that farmers or the companies would invest time in, so it would have to be an enthusiast of some kind which, I imagine, are rare.
posted by bristolcat at 8:47 AM on September 1, 2009

Some of them are there to signify that they are test plots for the crops being grown.
posted by ducktape at 10:39 AM on September 1, 2009

Advertising is what it is. Responses re. legal requirements are incorrect, but first you have to know something about corn v. soybeans. Corn can be hybridized; soybeans cannot. What this means is that seed corn (i.e., the corn that is being produced this year to sell to farmers next spring for planting) is produced by crossing a male seed line with a female seed line. The specific parent lines being used in any particular field are a very closely guarded trade secret. Most of the time, even the farmer growing seed for the company does not even know what specific lines were planted. The comments about wind drift, cross-pollination, etc... are incorrect as you cannot reproduce hybrid seed corn by harvesting and saving back seed from its own parent. That is why seed corn companies really don't need to worry about their product being reproduced "in the wild." Soybeans? Now that's an entirely different business. Which is why, if you look at the number of companies selling soybean seed in the Midwest compared to seed corn companies, the number of soybean companies is huge compared to seed corn firms.

As to where you would find a repository of the signs, I don't think you're going to as the signs change every year/few years as each company comes out with new seed lines.
posted by webhund at 7:07 PM on September 1, 2009

I asked my part-time farmer husband about these signs this morning. He didn't have much to add to what's listed here, but he did mention that one of our fields has them posted because the local elevator gave us some free seed to try in exchange for the advertising. So, there is another possible implementation.

On my way home last night, I couldn't help but notice the signs whenever I saw them! I can't say I ever really paid attention to them before. I did see a test plot that had a sign per every three rows of corn or so. The test plots, at least locally, are used more as a shopping guide than a science experiment. It provides a handy place to compare the different varieties.

If I had the time, I would post some pictures of the different ways they are used around here. One thing of note was that among the several dozen signs I saw last night, there were only 2-3 distinct designs/brands.
posted by bristolcat at 1:53 PM on September 2, 2009

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