Seed World

Ditch the Old Talking Points

As I sat and listened intently to each representative’s words last week during the Senate Committee’s hearing on “Consolidation and Competition in the U.S. Seed and Agrochemical Industry,” it was painfully clear that, as a whole, we need to do a better job of talking passionately and positively about the future of the seed industry.

We can no longer rely on our old talking points about combining capabilities, being farmer focused and creating products that help customers be more profitable. Yes, I get it … those are all good things, but we need to go further and make this relevant to those who will be making the decisions.

After listening to James Collins, DuPont executive vice president of the Agriculture Division; Tim Hassinger, Dow AgroSciences president and CEO; Erik Fyrwald, Syngenta CEO; Jim Blome, Bayer CropScience, North America, president and CEO; and Robb Fraley, Monsanto Company executive vice president and chief technology officer, it seemed to be a missed opportunity.

There was a lot of talk about history, but it’s that very history that American farmers and consumers don’t want to lose.

I understand there’s a great deal of uncertainty that comes along with mergers and acquisitions but if this is what will truly benefit agriculture and create more innovation, then let’s get out of our comfort zone and make the case. No one did a better job of this than Monsanto’s Fraley, and there are some lessons that can be learned here.

  1. He smiled, portraying optimism, energy and excitement.
  2. He connected with what’s happening today in other industries, citing Google, Amazon and Apple.
  3. He acknowledged concerns, taking them and turning them into opportunities for advancement.

Here’s an excerpt of Fraley’s testimony:

We are witnessing a new era in agriculture as a result of advances in biology and data science. Silicon Valley is digitizing farming around the world. And breakthroughs like gene editing are opening up a whole new world of possibilities in plant biology. These advances are urgently needed to address major challenges facing society …

Fortunately, the pace of innovation is accelerating, and new tools and applications are creating a healthy disruption in agriculture. This should not be a surprise, as we live in a world where Google is able to pivot from its traditional space and build a driver-less car … and Amazon is developing a rocket ship! Agriculture can and should similarly embrace these revolutionary technologies.

As someone who grew up on a small family farm in Illinois, I understand that change can be unsettling to farmers. But our industry is changing … and it needs to … because the solutions we need can only come if companies embrace new technology, increase their investments, and accelerate research and development (R&D). And that’s why you are seeing the latest round of mergers right now.

When you’re talking about the seed industry and you are trying to make the case for something, your expressions, body language and willingness to engage can go a long way. We had the eyes of the nation watching, and from my viewpoint, it was a missed opportunity.

We continue to talk about the “need to tell our story,” and to shine a positive light on the seed industry. A great deal of resources have been invested in this story-telling mission to better connect with farmers and consumers. Yet, when we have a platform that doesn’t cost us anything, and we are talking to those so-called “decision-makers,” do we take advantage of it?