An independent shows it can run with the big dogs
Craig Newman’s office sits surrounded by corn. AgReliant Genetics’ Westfield, Ind., headquarters
is about as close as you can get to the customer.
It is also as far as you can get from the college-like campuses of its major competitors.
But then, AgReliant isn’t like any other top-tier seed firm. The fourth largest seed corn company in the U.S., it is the largest seed company not owned by a company selling chemicals. That fact, Newman believes, is part of the reason behind the AgReliant’s consistent growth in market share.
"Being independent, we have access to all the major traits available and can and do offer these choices to farmer customers," says Newman, vice president of sales and marketing. "However, we are also one of the top five research companies with multiple research stations across North America. High-performing proprietary genetics is our most unique feature and one of the major benefits to doing business with AgReliant."
AgReliant Genetics was formed in 2000 as a joint venture of the U.S. and Canadian subsidiaries of Groupe Limagrain of Chappes, France, and KWS SAAT AG of Einbeck, Germany. Both parents are independent seed companies with sales throughout the world. AgReliant markets seeds in North America under the AgriGold, Great Lakes Hybrids, LG Seeds, Pride, Producers Hybrids and Wensman brands.
Newman, an Indiana farm boy and Purdue graduate, spent nearly eight years selling toothpaste, deodorant and shampoo for Procter & Gamble before being recruited to Akin Seed Company. It was 1979. The company had previously ended a partnership with Funk’s G Hybrid to form Golden Harvest and was terminating that relationship to re-establish its independence as AgriGold Hybrids.
"The agricultural seed industry is fiercely competitive, but it’s nothing compared to the food and drug business," Newman says. "I feel fortunate to live and work where I know most of the farmers in the county. I go to church with them, have coached their children. I hear their pressing
concerns—sometimes whether I want to or not. Providing products and services they need is a hot spot with me."
This personal touch is still top of mind within AgReliant Genetics. Its growth curve has come by concentrating on customer service, performance and seed quality. Newman credits an agronomy team and field research for building grower loyalty. To this day, every ear of seed corn is hand-sorted to maximize seed quality.
Help from haploids. AgReliant breeders lead the industry in unlocking the secrets behind doubled-haploid technology. "It accelerates corn hybrid development by producing 100% pure parents in a fraction of the time of traditional breeding," Newman says. "Incorporating this with molecular marker technology and intense use of off-season production has given us enough self-reliance to compete."
Since 2000, the company has seen market share increase from 3% to nearly 7% for 2011, and Newman says the increases have been consistent across brands. "We’ve been one of the most successful in the U.S. in multi-branding. It works because each brand has its own strengths and identity but also has access to AgReliant’s expertise in research and production."
Newman sees helping farmers sort through the new technology and genetics in a complex, fast-moving world as a challenge. "It involves more research, testing and education by seed companies so we can help farmers make the best choices to maximize profits.
"Seed companies are being challenged to sort it out for themselves too," he adds. "We develop over 100,000 unique hybrids every year. We constantly ask, What traits do we concentrate on and develop; what seed treatments do we offer? There are so many choices and so much complexity today, but that’s also what makes the business exciting."