Seed World

Forage Seed is Surviving Against All Odds

Martin Pick

Every facet of the seed industry represents different things to different people. We look at what the forage sector means to six people who love it. Third is…

Martin Pick. Anytime forage seed comes up in conversation, the name Pick inevitably does, too. Martin, his brother Tom and mother Marie took over the family seed business in 1959 after the death of family patriarch Otto Pick. Tom and Martin’s journey to become important and serious players in Canadian forage seed began when they re-organized the company under Otto Pick and Sons Seeds, later to become Pickseed Canada and finally the Pickseed Group of Companies. The business was sold to DLF in 2013.

Now 79, Martin and his brother are retired, but still looked at as people who know forage seed and what it takes to run a successful business. They have seen the forage seed sector survive its many incarnations over the years, going from the big kid on the block to a somewhat smaller, albeit important, player.

“When Tom and I took over from our late father, the seed industry really was mainly forage seeds: timothy, alfalfa, clover, bromegrass. The corn guys, they were playing down in their own corner in Chatham, Ont., and soybeans were a very small niche at that time — soybean was pretty much relegated to southwestern Ontario. Canola was unheard of. You look at it today, at the annual crops that dominate the whole seed industry, and the forage crops are a bit of a side player, you might say.”

Try New Things

“It’s getting harder to be successful in forage. With all the consolidation, it’s tough to see where smaller companies can find an opening. One area I think could still be productive would be to do on-farm service. There is probably an opening for a company that gives good agronomic service, gets out in the field and does the disease spotting and scouting, and can help the growers grow a better crop that way. That would be one of the opportunities that I would suggest.”

Look for an Opening

“Consolidation is tough because I think at some point the farming community might rise up — for lack of a better term — and get very frustrated. It depends on how avaricious these combined companies decide to be. They’re making the right noises: ‘We are here to serve you, we are going to do better work, don’t worry about us ramping up in size.’ But at some point, they’re going to have to make back the money they paid to acquire these various other entities. There’s only one way they can do that. At some point there is going to be a backlash toward these super-sized companies and the smaller players might be able to benefit from that backlash.”

Size Matters

“The bigger a company gets, the more awkward and clumsy it becomes. You get can disorganized, undisciplined, and the whole thing just falls apart. A perfect example was the AgriBioTech fiasco in the United States in the early 2000s, where about 20 companies in the forage and turf areas [were bought up] and everything ended up in a Las Vegas bankruptcy court. You have to stay focused and have a clear vision and — most importantly — good people who care.”