Thursday, October 23, 2014

With agriculture front and center on the world stage, many of the experts in this year’s Giant Views of the Industry video series had interesting stories to tell about answering some lingering challenges in seed as well as some more timely issues that have risen. Enjoy some of the highlights of their news and insights.

Focus on Farm Bill
“Our main focus on the 2012 Farm Bill is on research, education and continuation of programs that provide certainty to America’s farmers—especially programs like conservation. There are some key sections that involve the USDA Agricultural Research Service which are absolutely vital to us—continued support for the National Plant Germplasm System, research ARS is discovering specific disease resistance in various crops, and the research and development being done through public-private partnerships are critical to America’s seed companies. We need to make sure ARS has the resources to support and grow the National Plant Germplasm System, as well as do the research, education and outreach we need. Therefore, passage of the 2012 Farm Bill is our number one priority.

After the key research areas of the farm bill, we work closely with our companies and affiliated organizations that have a major interest in the conservation sections of the legislation. We are working to ensure that the conservation programs put in place over the last couple of farm bills are not put in jeopardy and that seed companies have input into how the programs can be more conducive to their ability to provide seed for the various programs in the bill. We also work closely with our colleagues in the row crop arenas to make sure that the policies that are eventually passed are beneficial to the seed industry, being able to provide farmers strong varieties and new technologies. On the vegetable side of the industry, it is important that we continue to work closely with organizations representing fruit, vegetable and flower producers to ensure they have the appropriate resources to continue programs and research that will make for strong, viable, domestic and international market opportunities. We really have a hand in everything, in all the production areas, then we focus a great deal on the research side of what’s going on in the marketplace. That’s one thing that we’re going to continue—we’re actually ramping up our efforts in the legislative and regulatory arena.”
—Andy LaVigne of the American Seed Trade Association

Facing Intense Competition
“Collaborations are very important today. We have more than a thousand collaborations currently with a lot of organizations around the world both public and private. What we’re trying to do with our program to stay out on the leading edge is be very close to customers and really understand those customer needs. You might have heard our slogan of ‘right product, right acre’—that really means developing products that are specifically designed for geographic regions that are relatively small rather than a more historical approach of trying to find a couple of hybrids or varieties that cross from coast to coast across the maturity zone in the country. So that’s the strategy that we’ve been taking.” —John Soper of DuPont Pioneer

Challenges in the Veg Industry: Grower Perspective
“At Syngenta, as we consider the most important challenges facing the vegetable seed industry today, we strive to do so from a grower perspective. A key challenge facing growers today, for example, is increasing regulation on sustainability and traceability. Following that is resource allocation, specifically, the need to grow more from less. Meeting the world’s growing demand for food will require that we find ways to continually increase production. Our goal is to provide solutions to help farmers achieve at least a 70 percent increase in food production by 2050.” —Scott Tefteller of Syngenta

Small But Mighty
“I believe that smaller independent companies can protect themselves the way the big companies do. They’ve just got to always be looking at and figuring out how to do a better job to maintain their place in the industry. Serving niche markets and things like that are one thing, but they’ve also got to see what’s going on around them and figure out how to adjust so that they are there doing the same thing that the big companies are doing.”
—Kelly Keithly of Keithly-Williams Seeds

Do What You Do Best
“Always do what you do best. Recognize where your strengths are and build on those strengths. Whether you’re the large multinational company or you’re a small regional company or an organic company, find that niche, find that value and go drive that success. That’s the value you can bring to the farmer.”
—Tim Johnson of Illinois Foundation Seeds

Increased Importance on Packaging of Seed
“Historically, I would say that branding and packaging in the vegetable seed industry has not been that important. When we talk to growers they will typically say their purchase decision is based on the variety that they grow and they put a lot of emphasis on the variety. However, I would say that it is changing and I think it is going to change even more. I think the pace of innovation in vegetable seed is going to increase substantially in the coming years. As a result, the life cycle of specific varieties is going to become shorter. For a grower that’s going to become more difficult to make sense of all the different varieties that are coming and changing. As a seed company, if you can offer a portfolio of products under a brand and deliver a consistent customer experience with that seed brand then the seed brand is going to mean a lot to the grower in the long term. Therefore, I see that seed branding and packaging is going to become more and more important in the future.”
—Norm Sissons of Monsanto

“Unique doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to do it better, but they have to do it different.”
— Ron Wulfkuhle

Determining What Makes You Unique
“Today, for an independent seed company, it’s so important that they determine how they can differentiate their own business. How they can be unique to the farmer and how they can deliver—it might be a product, it might be a service, it might be the way they package the product—but it should be something that they can own in addition to their brand, something that makes them unique. Unique doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to do it better, but they have to do it different. Sometimes seed companies make the mistake of trying to appeal to everyone and that’s not possible for a huge organization, let alone a company that’s trying to compete perhaps within a part of a state or across a couple of states. Seed companies really have to decide what type of farmer they are serving, what demographic they are dealing in and if there are other characteristics about the farmer that they can best support, and then go after that.”
—Ron Wulfkuhle of GreenLeaf, a Syngenta company

Recruitment Top Priority
[Recruitment of plant breeders] has been a challenge. What we’ve seen in the last 10 and dozen years is a smaller pool of plant breeders, particularly those that are North American born and bred. [DuPont Pioneer] is not opposed to hiring the best scientists in the world so we’ve been hiring some scientists from other countries, several coming out of Latin America and Asia and a few from Europe as well.  We’re also getting out there and trying to be better supporters of education, especially at the graduate level. We support a number of graduate scholarships and we are supporting some professors and some chairs out there to help the universities. The other thing I’ve done personally is get out and visit a number of ag universities and talked to students about plant breeding and opportunities in the seed industry. Some have full intention of pursuing ag-related careers, but others studying biology and some of the peripheral sciences are being introduced to agricultural career opportunities for the first time. One of the good things is that there are growing numbers of students entering biology. A lot of students are entering fields like ecology and some of those types of kids have the same desires and skill sets that we’re really looking for. Those are kids that really want to do something good for the future of the planet and the same type don’t mind working outside a little bit. That’s obviously very important to being a good plant breeder—to be able to get out there and know the plant just like you know your own kids.”
—John Soper of DuPont Pioneer


Research reveals trends in consumer preferences for vegetables. Taste and quality profiles are married with agronomic traits desirable to growers.

Tapping Into Consumer Trends
“We conduct a significant amount of research on trends in consumer preferences for vegetables. For example, we look at taste and quality profiles and then we seek to marry those with agronomic traits that are desirable to growers. We are continually working to combine those elements together in our breeding programs and answer the question, ‘what is it the consumer ultimately desires, and how can we provide that with the appropriate agronomic package and trait that the grower needs to be able to produce the yield and the return on investment he’s looking for?’”
—Scott Tefteller of Syngenta

Knowledge Sells
“My best advice for selling seed is to know what your customers need, know where their industry is trending and be there helping to forge the change rather than just buying into it and servicing it later. I also believe that by being honest with our customers and doing a good job for them increases our confidence in what we are doing. I also think we’ve got to earn our business by supplying that product knowledge that the growers need, and the service that they need, the service that our suppliers expect us to provide, and then we’ve got to get paid for that. We’ve got to quit earning our business by having the cheapest price.”
—Kelly Keithly of Keithly-Williams Seeds

Getting the Most from License Agreements
“I always tell people to read those [license] agreements, and I know people at times get frustrated because they’re so booked. If you read through them, identify the value that they bring. Also identify the challenges or responsibilities you have in those agreements and follow through on those. Get the most out of the agreement just like you should get the most out of the genetics or the traits you are using and I think agreements have to be looked at the same way.”
—Tim Johnson of Illinois Foundation Seeds

Assessing Genetics
“If you think about what [traits and genetics] will be available to independents, and what I can imagine some of our customers think is a huge temptation for Syngenta, is to keep the best stuff for the retail brands—to say, ‘these independent guys won’t really notice if we start slipping them the seconds, maybe the thirds, maybe the fourths.’ But that’s not how we got to be where we are. In our business today we’ve been very fortunate that our customers have rewarded us with nice sales growth and the business has developed very quickly. But that only happened because we were bringing forth the very best genetics that we could find, the very best genetics that Syngenta could develop as well as the work we had done as the joint venture with DuPont Pioneer and other genetic providers. I truly believe that for us to have continued growth we have to be able to bring forth the best genetics. When you think about GreenLeaf as a very fast growing business within Syngenta, it brings forth a term we use sometimes and that’s brand agnostic. It’s about getting Syngenta’s genetics and products and traits onto the farmer’s acre. If that comes in one of the retail brands—great. If that comes via GreenLeaf through one of the independent seed company brands—great. The farmer is still getting to experience the product; they are getting to experience the best that we can offer.” —Ron Wulfkuhle of GreenLeaf, a Syngenta company

Julie McNabb





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