Jim Schweigert President, Gro Alliance

A third-generation seedsman, Jim Schweigert grew up in the family seed business and was exposed to industry issues at an early age. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in public relations from the University of Minnesota and worked for corporate public relations firms in Minneapolis, Chicago and Atlanta before joining the family business full time in 2003. He has since been active in the American Seed Trade Association, the Independent Professional Seed Association and earned his master’s in seed technology and business from Iowa State University. As president, Schweigert manages client contracts and crop planning, as well as business development and new market opportunities. His unique background and experience make him one of the seed industry’s leaders in innovation. As such, he was honored as Seed World’s 2009 Future Giant and currently serves as chair of the board of directors for Seed Programs International.

I was talking to one of our seed growers recently and he said, “My grandpa wouldn’t even recognize a tractor cab today!” I agreed, but also thought, even my childhood self wouldn’t recognize it!

It’s during planting season that I’m always reminded of how much agriculture and the seed business have evolved. Field mapping, nearly autonomous tractors, high-speed planters and equipment monitoring have made the farmer’s field one of the most high-tech places in the world. In a context I love to use, my grandpa farmed with horses and now we farm with information from space. It’s truly remarkable.

So what’s next? The point of this article isn’t to predict what the future will bring, but to drive home the point that the future will be different, and to succeed, your business will need to be different too.

Change Comes, Even if You Aren’t Ready

The next few years will see change at an unprecedented pace. The major mergers are all underway and a wave of new strategic alignments and relationships is likely to develop. The entire deck may be reshuffled. Ideas you once thought were impossible or ridiculous may now be the perfect strategy. Brainstorming “what if” scenarios, challenging the status quo and being able to move quick will likely define those who will win the future.

We don’t, however, always get to pick when change comes and what it looks like. New breeding techniques, like gene editing, are allowing companies all the over the world to invent new and improved hybrids and varieties. How might they approach the market and what could that mean for your business? How can you leverage your farmer relationships and local knowledge to take advantage of this?

Additionally, technology is changing the way seed is sold. Web-based startup companies are popping up and are introducing themselves to farmers on social media, rather than with a handshake. How can your company demonstrate the value of your local knowledge and relationship in the midst of the lure of Big Data?

So Get Ready!

While I can’t predict the future, I can offer this recommendation – get ready! Disrupters and disruption are emerging in every corner of the seed business and agriculture. Prepare your staff, suppliers and even your customers for the inevitability of change. New technology will continue to spur new market entrants, and the completion of the major mergers will drive new relationships and shifting alliances.

All of this means that even your childhood self may not recognize the seed business in a few years. Make sure you’re ready for it!