Seed World

Want to Put Your Seed to the Test?

Farmers now have decades of experience growing GM crops — which means they can also see right through seed company marketing. Kevin Coey has the answer to getting your brand noticed again.

The concept: enable seed companies to earn an audience with farmers by putting their products to the test alongside those of their competitors.

Kevin Coey knows the concept might sound downright risky to some in the business of selling seed, but he says it’s a concept that is showing how an independent organization can foster cooperation and serve as the conduit for the interests of both seed companies and farmers. 

It’s a win-win, says the founder of Farmers Independent Research of Seed Technologies based in Urbana, Ill. 

Better known as FIRST Seed Tests, the company provides comparisons of seed genetics to improve yield and profitability for American corn and soybean farmers.

“With the wealth of genetics out there, farmers can’t tie themselves to one brand. A farmer doing business with only one company is like a seed company’s research director saying, ‘I know all the breeders we work with, but I like one in particular, so I’ll pick the fruits from his efforts and ignore the others,’” says Coey.

“Seed companies always need to look at all the options before them, and so do farmers. The key is to use unbiased field trials to bridge that gap and that’s where we come in.”

FIRST Seed Tests began in 1997 when 64 corn grain hybrids from 14 seed company sponsors were tested at 12 sites in Illinois. The program now tests corn grain, corn silage and soybean seed products in 15 states — North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. 

It utilizes 11 field managers and their independent businesses to identify, plant and harvest thousands of performance trials at hundreds of locations each year. Farmer members assist in test site selection, conduct field operations, and provide all inputs except seed. 

Companies willing to sponsor the research decide which products to test and where to test them. 

The result: hybrid and variety yield and agronomic results reported for each individual test site and as a regional summary over all sites in the region. 


A Better Way of Marketing

Coey notes that during the advent of biotechnology in the early 1990s, there was a lot of skepticism among farmers as to whether GM crops would be worth growing.

“It sounds incredible now, but back then growers really questioned if genetically modified crops would compete with conventional,” Coey says. 

Coey got the idea to start a performance trial program with a twofold purpose: show farmers just how incredible the new technology was, while allowing seed companies to sponsor field trials and put their brands front-and-center.

Fast-forward to today. Growers know the value of growing GM corn and soybeans, but knowledge is power, and farmers are increasingly savvy when it comes to picking what brands they use on their farm. They know how the game is played, Coey says.

“Every seed company does its own trials. You take your products and put them up against a couple of selected checks you know you can beat. In the early days of marketing seed, it worked. Now, the jig is up, so to speak.”

So, how do you impress a farmer in today’s modern marketplace? You take part in a performance trial program modeled after the same system your company itself uses to identify which products you want to market in the first place.

“FIRST has grown into an association of farmers and businesses organized to measure and report the yield and agronomic performance of corn and soybean seed products. We encourage the use of this information by farmers, consultants, agronomists and seed companies for improving yield and profitability of American farm operations,” Coey says.

An immediate benefit to becoming a part of the FIRST program is you can open new accounts in territories that are underperforming or are new and in need of development.

“If your product performs well in our program, your foot will be in the door with our farmer partners. How better can a farmer relate than to see competing brands put up against one another in the same field?” Coey says. 

“Nobody does that. It’s a unique way for seed companies to position their offerings and really get noticed.”

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