Seed World

Francis Glenn is Still Addicted to Germplasm After all These Years

Francis Glenn is the owner of Ontario's Glenn Seed.

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Francis Glenn is a true visionary in breeding hybrid corn. The 71-year-old developed the world’s first leafy corn varieties three decades ago and has numerous other breakthroughs in breeding corn varieties for silage under his belt. After all these years in the industry, he’s still proving that he’s a visionary and someone to be learned from.

Despite operating the Ontario-based Glenn Seed as a small family business, he is known for partnering with some of the biggest players in the seed world to get his ground-breaking varieties to growers. The company boasts an impressive share of the silage market, with Glenn Seed leafy hybrids now accounting for 20 per cent of the silage acres in North America. In addition, Glenn’s lines are the parents of hybrids sold in France, Italy, Hungary, Serbia, Turkey, Chile and New Zealand.

He’s become known not just for his leafy corn silage varieties, but also for his floury leafy corn silage, of which he’s developing new parental lines for full floury hybrids that will be used for corn silage as well as for producing high moisture corn for livestock feed.

He’s also teaching the ag world a thing or two about how to truly measure value in forage corn.

“One of the most challenging things about working with floury leafy corn silage is the predominance of the testing systems for nutrition systems for dairy cattle and the inaccuracy of those systems as it relates to our germplasm,” he says.

“Those systems underestimate the digestibility and value for the farmer. We’re overcoming that by working with big U.S.-based labs that do the measurements, so we can develop better techniques and tools based on performance of the rumen system. It’s a learning process for everyone.”

Glenn’s breeding and business triumphs have been widely recognized from both within and outside the seed industry, and he’s been the recipient of numerous awards over the years. All that recognition hasn’t caused him to slow down or rest on his laurels. He’s brought both of his children — Robert and Margo — into the business with him to carry on one of the most ground-breaking corn silage businesses in the world.

“Education is a big part of what we have begun over the last three years since Margo came on board here,” Glenn says. Glenn Seed has begun an effort to develop materials its clients can use for advertising, he says.

“We do a lot of training sessions now with customers so they understand the value points on our varieties. We don’t sell to farmers — we sell through seed company licensees who take our parent lines, multiply them to hybrids, and develop marketing programs to sell to farmers. That means we sort of have to communicate with the farmer through his or her seed company of choice.”

And that means using modern technology to think differently about product promotion, he says.

“Working with germplasm is addictive. You see two pieces of it and you ask yourself how it might work to combine them — but anytime I ask myself that, my answer doesn’t come for three to four years. So I have time to think about how I might promote a new product. The majority of what is sold today are grain hybrids developed for silage, and those are not nearly as valuable as floury leafy hybrids. But they dominate due to strength of marketing. Customer loyalty can be very strong.”

That has required Glenn to enter the information age, something his children are teaching him the importance of.

“We’ve spent some time getting a website up and putting new videos on it. I haven’t done anything like blogging, it takes a lot of time and I don’t feel I have that kind of time. But my children are dragging me onto social media a bit at a time,” he says with a laugh.

“The power of advertising is immense. That’s a huge lesson I’ve learned. Education is very important for changing people’s minds in terms of what they’re doing on the farm.”