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Rick Turner
If you had asked the average corn grower just four short years ago to name a seed-applied insecticide, you might have received a blank stare. But due to the marketing savvy and strategic product positioning of this year's National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA) Marketer of the Year, Rick Turner, seed-applied insecticides will be on the minds -- and in the planter boxes -- of nearly 50 percent of corn producers in the United States this year.

Turner, who until recently was president of Gustafson LLC, now wholly owned by Bayer CropScience, has earned the honor of being named the 2005 Marketer of the Year. Turner now heads the Bayer CropScience sales efforts in the northern half of the U.S. In large part, this award recognizes Turner for his leadership role and strategic vision in introducing one of the most successful launches of a new product and technology to the corn insecticide marketplace in the past decade.

Turner's in-depth understanding of the crop protection marketplace was honed over more than 25 years in sales and marketing positions in the U.S. and Canada.

In his first four years at Gustafson, as vice president of marketing, sales doubled, and they have continued to grow every year since. Under his guidance the company achieved record penetration in brand awareness for each of the crops utilizing seed-applied technology including cotton, wheat, grain sorghum and canola, in addition to corn. During his service at Gustafson, Turner also led the development of sophisticated database marketing programs, joint marketing initiatives with strategic partners and unique profit-building programs for channel partners through agency agreements and pay-for-performance models. In addition, Turner led a group of marketing and communications specialists in transforming the Gustafson business model in anticipation of the changing needs of the crop seed industry.

"Rick has always been a person who is open to new ideas and who's not afraid to try new things," says Paul Holliday, who has worked closely with Turner for several years and is product manager for Gustafson's corn, soybean and sorghum products. "He's a visionary leader with solid decision-making skills, and that was quite evident in the approach he took in guiding the launch of our Gaucho® and Poncho® seed-applied insecticides."


With an adoption-rate history and top-of-mind awareness rivaling those experienced by the most successful herbicide-resistance technologies in the corn and soybean seed markets, Poncho 250 and Poncho 1250 brand seed-applied insecticide products have become one of the fastest-growing technologies in the rapidly changing world of agriculture.

The highly successful launch in 2003 of the new insecticide product lines was the culmination of several years of work and extensive market research. As vice president of marketing for Gustafson in the late 1990s Turner, along with his team, developed a plan built on their earlier experience with the Gaucho brand insecticide. They also engaged in extensive field trials and attitudinal research among corn growers to craft a strategy for creating a unique market niche and positioning for these new products.

For years, soil-applied products, usually requiring separate insecticide boxes and metering equipment on the grower's planter, dominated the insecticide market for corn. The only other alternatives for insect control had been planter-box treatments or foliar sprays. One of the potential problems faced by Turner's team at Gustafson was having Poncho simply lumped together with planter-box products. This would have immediately relegated the new technology to a second-tier position before it ever left the starting gate.


So in 2001 Turner and his team coined the term "seed-applied insecticide" to describe the company's Gaucho insecticides. The product was applied by seed companies or professional seed treatment applicators to help protect the corn seed and germinating seedling from insect damage, requiring no additional equipment or handling by the grower.

"Rick realized it was important to differentiate Gaucho from traditional seed treatment products right from the start," Holliday says. "We knew it would be even more important for our next-generation product, Poncho, which was already in advanced trials, to be clearly positioned as an insecticide that was delivered safely and conveniently on the seed." Therefore, a new product category was born and every communication, both external and internal, referred to Gaucho, and later Poncho brand products, as seed-applied insecticides.

Growers who had used Gaucho seed-applied insecticide beginning in 2001 were quick to praise the product's performance against early-season seed and seedling pests. However, some requested a higher level of protection, and producers in rootworm-prone areas also wanted a seed-applied rate that would help protect against that insect pest. Two application rates for the new Poncho product were introduced in the fall of 2002 -- Poncho 250 for protection against early-season and seedling pests, including black cutworm, and Poncho 1250 for an even higher level of protection against these early-season pests plus protection against corn rootworm.

"To the farm, on the seed, in the bagSM became the positioning statement we developed with our communications agency partner, McCormick Company, to help convey the safe, easy and effective nature of the new chemistry and the new seed-applied technology," according to Charlie Hale, who was the communications manager for Gustafson at the time and now holds a communications position within Bayer CropScience.


Previous experience convinced Turner and his team that a pull-through strategy focused almost exclusively on corn growers was essential for the introduction of Poncho 250 and Poncho 1250 seed-applied insecticides -- although the products would only be sold to seed companies who would, in turn, sell the seed and seed-applied insecticide to their corn-growing customers.

Gustafson also developed a program with its partners that helped ensure there would be adequate product available in the marketplace. The result was that Gustafson completely sold out of Poncho for that first planting season and nearly depleted the world's supply of clothianidin, the product's active ingredient. "Without Rick's hands-on involvement with our seed partners through the whole process, it could easily have been a very different story," Holliday says. "Rick's vision shifted the whole concept of both how farmers would attempt to control secondary insects or corn rootworms and how our seed partner customers purchased products. He wasn't afraid to go out and introduce a new model for doing business into the market."


When the dust finally settled in the early summer of 2004 and sales numbers were analyzed, soil-applied insecticides from a number of different companies still dominated the corn insecticide category. Although Poncho 250 and Poncho 1250 seed-applied insecticides had carved out a market share totaling nearly 20 percent of U.S. corn acres in their first year, which is an unheard-of accomplishment. The market value of the Poncho 250 and Poncho 1250 on the seed last year was in excess of $100 million. Estimates are that the market share for Poncho 250 and Poncho 1250 will double again this season and approach almost half of the seed corn planted in the U.S. in 2005.

Rick Turner's bold ideas, effective leadership and marketplace strategy, and hard work have brought an impressive, new insect-control solution to corn growers along with sales and marketing success to Gustafson LLC and Bayer CropScience. That track record of proven success and innovation demonstrates why he has been honored as the 2005 NAMA Marketer of the Year. AM

Agri Marketing would like to thank Russ Berndt, McCormick Company, for his contribution to this article.

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