Chemical Conversion

July 29, 2011 10:12 AM
Chemical Conversion

A new emphasis on seed germinates at Dow

Chris Garvey knows most farmers think of Dow as a chemical company. His mission is to also make Dow AgroSciences’ seeds and traits business a household name.

He has the tools. Mycogen Seeds, the company’s national flagship seed brand, delivered some of the first Bt corn traits and continues to build its genetic base. Dow AgroSciences has added a stable of strong regional seed companies.

On the trait side, farmers have come to know and depend on Herculex, the corn insect trait Dow developed with Pioneer Hi-Bred, and, more recently, SmartStax, the eight-trait stack corn developed with Monsanto Company. The hottest commodity in seed—a one-bag corn refuge—will see a full launch in 2012. The Enlist Weed Control System, a new herbicide trait technology that allows a 2,4-D product plus glyphosate over the top, is expected in 2013.

Estimated to be fifth in U.S. seeds and traits market share, Dow AgroSciences holds especially strong positions in silage hybrids, sunflower varieties and Nexera brand canola.

Mycogen Seeds has posted sales growth for three consecutive years. The Mycogen sales force has increased by 30% during the past two years.

"There are regions of the country that know us very well with competitive products across multiple crop segments," says Garvey, who serves as general manager of Mycogen Seeds. "We continue to work hard to tell our story and want growers to keep trying our products."

Garvey says Dow AgroSciences is eyeing expansion into the Southern corn market. "We have a breeding program in place, but are taking it slow because we want to do the job right."

Just do it. "If you can’t do it better, why do it?" This philosophy of Dow’s founder, Herbert H. Dow, is a call to purpose for Garvey. More is not necessarily better—unless of course, you’re talking about yield.

Garvey brings an entomology, plant pathology and business pedigree. Jobs were scarce when he graduated from the University of Delaware in 1980, so he headed to Houston to work in the oil business. A job as a drilling fluid engineer on an oil rig yielded a portfolio of hair-raising tales and four patented products for oil well applications.

Coming to Dow in 2002 brought him back to the field of agriculture. "I enjoy being part of something larger than ourselves. It’s motivating to search for the technology needed to feed the world tomorrow," Garvey says.

Personal time is spent on the business end of a pitchfork or finding funding to preserve a 1930s-era farm on the outskirts of Indianapolis. "How many people can we inspire? That’s a saying we repeat often," he says.

Growing up. Dow AgroSciences LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Dow Chemical Company, began in 1989 as DowElanco, a joint venture between the plant sciences businesses of Dow Chemical and Eli Lilly and Company. In 1997, DowElanco was renamed Dow AgroSciences when Dow acquired full ownership from Lilly.

You’ll find old seed company names such as Jacques, PAG, Lynk Brothers and Sears Roebuck brand folded into the history. Dow purchased Mycogen Seeds in 1998, but it was purchasing Cargill Hybrid Seeds in 2000 without access to its brand that served up a costly lesson. Sales suffered, since Cargill customers were unfamiliar with Mycogen.

Since then, Garvey says, Dow AgroSciences has handled most seed acquisitions differently. It retains the existing brand name, focuses on geographies where each company is strong and maintains the experience that farmers are familiar with in order to keep each brand unique. Local brands for 2012 include Brodbeck Seeds, Dairyland Seed, Pfister Seeds, Prairie Brand, Renze Seeds and Triumph Seed, along with a Canadian company, Hyland Seeds.

"We’ve expanded our genetic pool significantly in corn, soybeans, alfalfa, sunflowers and other crops through our recent acquisitions," Garvey says.

"We’ve combined the new genetics with our current genetic pool, and we’re already seeing some compelling products coming through our product development pipeline."

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