VIEW FROM THE TOP: BURRUS HYBRIDS
INDEPENDENT SEED COMPANIES' ROLE
Name: Tom Burrus
Title: President Burrus Hybrids; Immediate Past Chair, Independent Professional Seed Association (IPSA)
Career: He and his brother, Todd, are third generation owners of Burrus Hybrids. He oversees the sales and marketing, Todd oversees research, production and business operations. After graduating with a B.A. from Illinois College, Jacksonville, IL, he returned home where he joined the company full time.
AM: What is the role going forward for Independently family-owned seed companies?
TB: Independent seed companies have the opportunity and the ability to offer a larger portfolio of traits and products than the seed companies that are owned by a trait supplier. Independents provide another option and in many cases a higher level of personal relationship, information and service than the big companies provide. It always comes down to who can deliver the most value in a package the grower views as convenient and profitable.
Today there are over 200 seed companies. Currently there are 135 of them, representing about 25% of the hybrid seed corn market, that comply with IPSA's ownership requirements and are active members of the association.
There is no question the seed market will get more and more competitive as there are fewer growers to supply. Some prefer to support the Independent as they realize they are important to them and dislike supporting a global entity. Competition is what made America great and it will in the years ahead.
AM: What are Independents' primary opportunities and challenges?
TB: Today, great opportunity lies in providing more value for the growers. This includes identifying and/or developing competitive products, providing more information and faster, more responsive service.
While the big seed companies do a great job, we have to be better. They have more advertising power, we have more regionally adapted products and more responsive service and individual support. Our challenge is to out-perform the big boys in the country and still be a good partner with the trait suppliers on trait distribution.
AM: How do the Independents go about selecting their trait providers?
TB: To date the choices have been easy, since there have been few available to Independents. Monsanto is in a dominant position with a great portfolio of traits. As we go forward, they have the business to lose or keep. The other technology suppliers are bringing forward technology that appears to be very competitive.
Seed companies will likely take different strategies. Some will hookup with one and hope to negotiate better terms. Many will likely offer an assortment from different suppliers to be able to offer a more complete portfolio of traits for insect and herbicide control.
In our Burrus business model, we are recommending a three year crop rotation. The first year would be
soybeans, that today are Roundup Ready, followed by corn (here we recommend either conventional herbicides or a Liberty program), followed by corn after corn (where we recommend the Roundup Ready, Triple Stack VT technology). This rotational system creates more income than traditional corn and bean rotation, varies the herbicides (which protects our environment from resistant weeds) and maximizes the technology strengths of each program.
AM: Why have some Independents sold their businesses, while others haven't?
TB: If there is no succession plan in place or available, an owner is much more likely to sell. Also whether a company is successful in this changing time may make desire to sell, but also may limit how many or who might be interested in buying that company.
Some of those staying are likely to consolidate to create more competitive companies, some will just grow their business without changing structure. There is not just one right formula, it is a function of capital, research, quality, and support.
AM: How many Independents do you think there will be in five years?
TB: In five years there is likely to be fewer Independents, as consolidation continues. Some will sell or quit, others will band together through mergers. Also, we may see more startups. Whenever there is change, there is opportunity.
AM: What role will the IPSA have over the next few years?
TB: IPSA has just updated its strategic plan and it focuses on the synergisms that we can create through educational programs to enhance the members' ability to thrive in the years ahead. We are planning to bring programs that can benefit all members and associates and be more efficient than each member building their own.
Our research committee will look different in the years ahead as agronomic issues have dominated its work in the past, and now will take on new projects that affect our members' business operations, like computer software, inventory management and building budgets. We intend to be a proactive part of the changes occurring in the seed industry today.