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Editor's Note: Dr. Rick McConnell is president of Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., Des Moines, Iowa. He is responsible for the world's largest seed company with over 40 percent seed corn market share in North America. McConnell joined Pioneer in 1974 as a plant breeder and later led all research at Pioneer. Following the merger with DuPont, McConnell headed up research across the DuPont Agriculture and Nutrition businesses before becoming president of Pioneer.

AM: Biotechnology and its implication for crop production and consumer concerns is still a huge issue in agriculture. What does this technology mean specifically to Pioneer and its products?

Biotechnology is one of many tools we use to bring value to our customers. You still need great plant breeders to deliver hybrids and varieties that farmers will want to buy. In addition to the many technologies like genomics and proteomics and marker-assisted selection, we have advanced computer and analytical measurement technologies.

As for transgenics, we continue to see strong demand for pest and herbicide resistant products. U.S. consumer acceptance has stayed steady, despite a great deal of negative media reports. And we are seeing some progress even in Europe. I've always been optimistic that good science will prevail, and we'll be able to make the most of what biotechnology has to offer plant genetics. In the meantime, we need to keep biotechnology in perspective and continue to focus on developing the best products for our customers with all the tools we have available to us.

AM: Tell us about new traits coming from Pioneer and the implications for those traits here and overseas?

We just received U.S. registration for our exciting new Bt corn trait that we developed in collaboration with Dow AgroSciences. Herculex I Insect Protection provides enhanced resistance against European and southwestern corn borer, black cutworm and fall armyworm, and provides tolerance to Liberty herbicide.

Registration efforts are under way in all major corn-producing and -consuming regions of the world. Commercialization plans depend on getting the appropriate registrations in key markets outside the U.S.

We expect to have a corn rootworm resistant trait to the market in 2003 or 2004.

I am very encouraged that the whole grain value chain has learned a great deal about how to manage biotech and non-biotech crops for specific markets. Every chance I get, I remind our customers that they should always visit with the person who's buying their grain before they order their seed.

AM: Tell us about the GrowingPoint Web site and how you expect your grower/customers to use this new tool?

GrowingPoint is a great example of how, if you are keenly focused on customers needs, you can push a technology to provide them something that isn't available elsewhere.

In addition to giving access to a wealth of information from Pioneer and content from experts from the Wall Street Journal, H&R Block, and The National Weather Service, the system customizes content for our customers based on their purchasing history and additional information the customer gives when he registers.

We see GrowingPoint as a means to link customers directly to their sales professionals while giving them access to global information support services from Pioneer.

AM: Do you expect sales of seed on the Internet will be a major factor for the seed industry in the next couple years?

Internet technology allows us to do some incredible things to support business relationships, but we haven't seen how it can replace them. Every customer has a unique situation that deserves a unique mix of products and services. You don't build company reputation from company headquarters. It is built locally, one customer at a time.

AM: More seed companies are moving to sales of seed with farm retail dealers, moving somewhat away from the traditional farmer-dealer. What are the current plans for Pioneer in this area?

We distribute seed based on the individual markets. Our customers tell us that they want to deal with someone who can bring value to their seed buying decision. That's why we invest heavily in training for Pioneer sales professionals. Many represent us full time. More than 80 percent of our sales reps have received CCA certification or are in the final stages of certification. AM

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