Those New Sweet Corn Varieties
By William L. Brown, Geneticist, Rogers Bros. Seed Company
It has been predicted that the 1943 production of sweet corn will be one of the largest in the history. It’s interesting to note that approximately 85 percent of the yellow varieties of that crop are expected to be produced from hybrid seed. Considering the hybrid corn industry is little more than 20 years old, this is a remarkable example of modern agricultural progress.
Probably no other crop has, since the early 1900s, received as much attention from plant breeders as has corn. In some measure, this is the result of the economic importance of the nation’s corn crop, but primarily it’s because corn has proven to be well adapted to genetic and cryogenic research. The purely scientific investigations involving corn tend to simplify the problems of the breeder and have provided a background for a new agricultural industry — that of hybrid seed corn production.
William L. Brown, geneticist for Rogers Bros. Seed Company in 1943.
A large part of the sweet corn produced is used by corn processors (the canners and freezers). That this group has found hybrid varieties far superior to open-pollinated sorts accounts for the high percentage of hybrid corn composing the total sweet corn acreage. In fact, crosses have become so generally used that when speaking of sweet corn, it is usually inferred that one is referring to hybrids. This taken-for-granted attitude among the seed trade has created a lack of appreciation for the difficulties involved in the production and maintenance of hybrid sweets and of the meticulous care required in the proper handling of them.
Seed yield constitutes another major problem. Since inbreeding reduces plant vigor, seed yields are reduced accordingly and, in some inbred lines, this has reached a degree where the plants might be considered sterile.
The development of new or improved varieties of sweet corn is often considered as involving nothing more than a certain required amount of selection, inbreeding and crossing. Yet the difficulties encountered in producing superior strains might be attested to that of the thousands of experimental crosses made by breeders each year, only a mere fraction of the total is retained as possibly being meritorious of further tests.
Finally, as always, the greatest immediate benefits will accrue from the use of high-quality seed, regardless of the variety. The term hybrid attached to a variety is no assurance of its superior quality. Far more important is a knowledge of its behavior, which is a direct reflection of the manner in which it has been produced.
Seeds — In a Changing World
By Lloyd E. Arnold, Owner, Arnold Thomas Seed Service
To set the stage for my comments, let’s look at a few vital factors that will influence the role seeds must play in this changing world. Innumerable studies, which attempt to anticipate what will happen in our changing world, have been made and others are in progress. These studies have to do with world population, national population, state population, farm size, the number of farms, what crops should increase in acreage and changes in food consumption.
Lloyd E. Arnold, owner of Arnold Thomas Seed Service in 1969.
The most astonishing prediction was made by Hugo Fisher, California Resources Agency administrator, before the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco in late July 1966. He indicated that California will have 1.5 billion residents by the year 2066, if its population continues to expand unchecked.
It is interesting to note that the world population doubled in the period from 1900 to 1965. The 1965 world population was about 3.2 billion and by 2000 will exceed 6 billion, provided enough food can be produced. The population of the world, as we all know, is unevenly distributed. By 1975, we can expect an additional 700 million people — that is more than the population of India and more than the entire population of the Western Hemisphere. By the year 2000, if present trends continue, two-thirds of the world population will be in the area from Turkey eastward, including China, India and the islands north of Australia.
These are startling figures if we pause for a few moments to assess the impact on food production for the 700 million more people that will be populating the face of the earth in 1975. To cope with the food needs of these additional 700 million people, it will require an increase in world food production of 22 percent above levels in 1965.
Additionally, we are confronted with changes in our eating habits. For some time, per capita consumption of potatoes, wheat, butter, condensed milk and eggs has been declining in the United States. Per capita use of food fats and oils and combined use of fruits and vegetables has remained relatively steady. The per capita consumption of beef and veal is expected to expand and by 1980 it will be around 117 pounds.
This compares with a per capita use of 105 pounds in 1965. Thus, anticipated domestic demand for beef by 1980 ranges 40 to 50 percent above the high 1965 production rate, which was near the top of the production cycle. On the other hand, by 1980 the use of pork per capita will decline somewhat from 59 pounds in 1965. However, by 1980, the domestic market for hogs is projected to increase by more than 16 percent when compared with 1965. While a decline in per capita use of milk products has been indicated, around one-fifth more production will be needed in 1980 than in 1965.
What does all this have to do with seeds in a changing world? As seedsmen we must be cognizant of these trends and direct our skills toward making available the kind of seeds necessary to help the men who till the soil attain a balanced production of the crops, which will be in demand for feed, food and fiber.
In addition to the population explosion and changes in eating habits, there is the increasing size of the farm unit and the apparent trend toward fewer firms servicing agriculture. These combined factors will also affect the way in which we produce our seeds and how they will be marketed and distributed to the farmer.
The “New” Sales Revolution
By William E. Preller, Crop Management Services
There is a genuine revolution going on in agronomic seed marketing. Perhaps even the largest players don’t totally know what they are doing. Perhaps the farmer doesn’t know about it yet. Nonetheless, it is a revolution. The rules are changing because the customer is always right, and the customer is changing.
The world is changing, and that includes American agriculture. The farmer is more knowledgeable than ever before. He is bigger and more like a businessman. As has been written before, those who help feed their customer the information he needs will win. That is what is happening to sales.
Sales is an interesting game. No one makes any money until that money changes hands because of a sale. Businesspeople are smart. Sales associates, sales consultants, customer service reps, consumer advocates and so on replace the salesman. But the customer isn’t fooled. The customer still knows about commissions, sales quotas and promotional gimmicks, and still goes about his business of finding the best deal and not trusting the salesperson to help him find value.
Consider the Sears/Walmart competition. We all know who’s winning that one. Behind the cost efficiencies and the Spartan overhead structures, one simple premise rules: Walmart is willing to take care of the customer. It is willing to let the customer tell if the product is any good. Most importantly, Walmart knows very quickly why the customer is or is not buying each product.
These same trends are going full force in the seed marketing business. Notice a former market leader that succeeded at force-feeding the same hybrids across a diverse geographical market, and then was severely hurt when it turned out those products did not work for all those customers. What was management’s answer? It switched marketing strategies. The problem is that this new approach was contrary to the established nature and attitudes of the company’s sales force. Learning to be a customer advocate is tough for a professional salesperson accustomed to slam-dunk selling methods.
Therein lies the challenge the seed industry faces. Some biotechnical advances might sell themselves, such as corn borer tolerance or some chemical tolerances. However, the customer still needs timely and reliable information on the appropriate use of the hybrids and varieties available.
Salespeople must be seen by customers and their company as the customer advocate. They must understand each customer and each product to ensure successful matches. Companies that are not filling this basic need are losing, regardless of research and development budgets or product capabilities.