Independent Seed Companies Find Opportunity

Ten years ago, it was common to see farmers loyal to just one seed brand. Today that’s changing. ( Sonja Begemann )

Ten years ago, Ernest Hallock bought seed from just one multinational company. This spring, he and his son-in-law, Erik Johnson, planted four seed brands — a number that fluctuates each year and includes multinational and regional companies.

“There are a handful of reasons we’ll try a new company,” Johnson explains. “Our neighbors will recommend it, we have a relationship with the seed salesman or the company might have a new product or service we’re interested in trying. Ultimately, we base it on performance and field-level recommendations.”

Independents have remained steadfast in the face of recent industry changes despite sizable churn in employees and brands within multinational companies, says Todd Martin, CEO of the Independent Professional Seed Association.

“We can continue to be laser focused and agile to respond to farmers’ needs,” adds John Wyffels, president of Wyffels Hybrids.

Different Challenges

Succession planning will shape the future of the independent sector.

This past year, Legend Seed shifted to an employee-owned model to ensure the company could “provide certainty and stability for employees and dealers.” In addition, Legend partnered with Cornelius Seed to acquire Munson Hybrids.

“Consolidation from aging is how it’s always been,” explains Scott Beck of Beck’s Hybrids. “With succession planning there can be continuation of a business, but without a plan, consolidation will occur.”

On the other hand, three new seed companies formed in the past four years: Local Seed Company, Midwest Seed Genetics and NC+. Owners identified a hole in the market they believe only an independent can fill.

“It’s not our mission to out-Bayer Bayer or out-Corteva Corteva, it’s the opposite,” says Dan Funk, who heads marketing for NC+ and Midwest Seed Genetics. “They’re great at what they do, and we’re excited to partner with them relative to our component technology strategy. Our mission and opportunity are to focus on the execution of service to farmers, and size isn’t necessarily an advantage there.”

For Hallock and Johnson, seed choice boils down to what will make the most money and provide ease-of-use. “I wouldn’t go back to 100% one company again ," Hallock says.

That‘s one way independent seed companies fit in.