Adversity Creates Opportunity

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Todd Martin CEO of the Independent Professional Seed Association

Todd Martin
CEO of the Independent Professional Seed Association

Notably, author and educator Henry Brands called Benjamin Franklin “The First American.” Brands was not the first to use that term for Franklin. As we all recognize, Franklin was identified as the spirit and embodiment of the American character. No doubt, that character authored many texts, including the words “Out of Adversity Comes Opportunity,” which I want to focus on here.

The adversity I want to address is the continuing conflict we face in our industry with non-GMO groups and the continuing effect on consumers.

There is a documented consumer movement in the United States today. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, organic products are experiencing double-digit growth and now top $35 billion in sales. The National Grocers Association also noted in its recent financial survey: “More than 70 percent of independents increased the number of organic items over 2014. A very similar share, 67 percent, saw their organic dollar sales increase.”

This is all happening at the same time that Chipotle gives public notice of a desire to move to “non-GMO,” which has been met with more than a few strong agriculture advocates.

We are an industry in which (depending on the source) 86 to 93 percent of the corn and soybeans we produce are genetically modified.

In my opinion, that means there is plenty of adversity. But where is the opportunity?

As Americans, we value the freedom to choose. Choice is literally in our DNA. It is what has made our country great, and it also is what makes our seed companies strong. Providing the choice is the challenge, to be better than others — better products and better services. Choice drives our business; it is our ability to differentiate.

Choice is seemingly what we hear some consumers want. And that is our opportunity.

A former college professor told me a couple of years ago to “sell people what they want.” That comment came about as a result of a very heated discussion. I was pulling everything out of my arsenal on the benefits of biotechnology.

In the end, he told me that he agreed with my science, but wanted something different.

Choice opens up opportunities for specialty markets. Markets I firmly believe our independent seed companies are in a perfect position to develop.

We must recognize the opportunities that consumer choice will generate for us. Besides the financial benefits that we will find, we may also find the opportunity to tell our story — to talk about our science — yes, to begin a dialogue.

I believe in the undeniable strength and promise of our science. I was fortunate to see the amazing field results in 1995 as both Roundup Ready soybeans and Bt cotton made their introductions and transformed agriculture. Yes, I believe the promise of genetic engineering will unleash our ability to feed the future population of the planet.

But what I believe is not enough.

Part of our responsibility is to find ways to engage those that don’t understand what we are doing in the fields today. We have to find the way to open conversations with those that think food actually comes from the grocery store. I believe we can gain a seat at their table by enabling the ability to choose.

Agriculture is the new cutting edge of science and technology. I never thought this would be the case back in 1980 milking cows on the family farm. But here we are, the center of science with biotechnology, computer science and other disciplines.

Today, we see numerous instances where conventional corn and soybeans are selling at a premium to biotech products. Not at the level of organics, but a premium none-the-less. Will these opportunities continue? I can’t answer that, but while they are here, let’s use our talents to build our business in this specialty area and bring more education to the conversation.

I am proud to be a part of an industry that does such a great job of advocating, and am certainly proud to be a part of the independent seed companies that carry this message locally and personally. Ultimately, the independents are the front line of our messaging and best suited to find the opportunities in the adversity.

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