Rich Hall Head of Genetic Sales, GreenLeaf Genetics

I’ve never seen anything like this unprecedented run of excellent corn crops over the last six or seven years in my 45 years of either working for or working with independent seed companies – but I’ve seen a lot of changes.

If our industry experiences another large seed and grain harvest in 2019, we’re looking at potentially serious implications for American agriculture. To survive and thrive, independent seed companies (ISCs) must find every way possible to manage their expenses and manage their business relationships. 

Partner to sustain

In my current role as head of genetic sales for GreenLeaf Genetics, we strive to work closer than ever with ISCs to understand their business from the ground up, not pushing products or genetics from the top down. 

By helping with business planning and genetic research knowledge, our ISC customers are better equipped to take our R&D knowledge into their business and deliver their own branded product benefits to match customer needs. It is ability and agility to adapt to changing grower needs, combined with excellent customer relationships, that gives ISCs an edge against multinational seed companies and internet sellers in their local markets.

Adapting to customers

ISCs need for agility and adaptation has been critical to success, as farmers have adopted corn traits and trait packages very quickly. First, it was traits to control European corn borer, then herbicide-tolerant traits, followed by rootworm traits. There was quick adoption of full-blown, above- and below-ground insect tolerance with herbicide tolerance trait packages. Such confirmation pushed conventional hybrids (without traits) aside, garnering only 10% of the market, and shrinking.

However, just as quickly, and surprisingly, farmers have gone in another direction over the past two to three years. Above- and below-ground trait packages have dropped well below 40% market share, losing favor to above-ground only trait packages. We’ve also seen conventional hybrid market share climb to 15 to 17% of the corn market. 

Fortunately for many independent seed companies, their ability to react quickly to market changes, combined with customer loyalty gained over generations, has helped them gain market share on sizeable multinational seed companies. 

Close customer relations

Farmers have a growing appetite for higher knowledge and often depend on the advice of their trusted seed partner to deliver the best recommendations to take advantage of every hybrid package. 

We see farmers’ ages trending younger, with quicker adoption of technology and data that can drive greater efficiency. With that comes increasing demand for seed sellers who can offer assistance beyond the sale, which can build further trust.

ISCs are very good at building their relationships, and they have the best opportunity to keep local farmer relationships secure, compared to multinationals or other new ways of acquiring seed.

I firmly believe that, as we continue to improve germplasm and trait package performance along with more in-depth product knowledge, our ISC customers will also benefit by staying agile  and reinforcing their relationships with customers. If we can all do this, then the ISC sector will continue to grow, despite some pretty tough times ahead.