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Editorís Note: David Witherspoon is vice president, Garst Seed Co., Slater, Iowa. Garst is part of Advanta, a worldwide seed company, partly owned by Astra Zeneca (50 percent) and Cosun, a Dutch company (50 percent).

AM: How do seed companies plan in the face of market issues such as food safety, GMOs and environmental issues?

DW: It is a very difficult situation. We plant our seed crop like farmer customers do in April and May. The crop we harvest is the seed supply we sell and market to our customers for the next planting season. Drastic changes in the GMO issues or trait needs by the farmer after we plant our crop could possibly leave us in a situation where we may not have adequate supplies of the hybrids customers want to plant that year. And by utilizing contra (South American) seed production, we can only change our supplies by about 10 percent.

We try to anticipate farmersí needs based on providing customers with good performing genetics from our proprietary breeding programs. What customers want foremost are top performing products. Being an international company we monitor the situation with GMOs and try to anticipate what will happen in this area. However, this is very difficult. We also offer customers trait options that are both GMO and non-GMO traits.

Bottom line: There is no way to predict the short term future of the marketís acceptance of GMOs, so we do the best we can based on the information we can access. We do believe that GMOs will have a place in the market long term and do offer our customers a performance advantage.

AM: How are you reacting, from a marketing standpoint, to new challenges such as buying seed on the Internet, growers organizing buying groups, retailers selling seed and other non-traditional efforts?

DW: Because of the wide range of products that we offer and their specific agronomic "fit" into a particular farmerís operation, seed sales via the Internet is a very difficult situation. Yes, there are some large producers who are looking to simply get the best price on their inputs, including corn. But there is so much more to making a proper seed purchase than simply selecting hybrids from an online menu.

Another consideration is how online seed sales will work within our current sales structure. And how will that sale be supported agronomically? We believe there will always be a place in our business for the traditional farmer/sales rep and ag retailer, but at the same time we do listen to our customers and are closely watching the e-commerce arena and just how we can meet all of our customersí needs.

AM: Explain how the proposed merger between Novartis Crop Protection and Zeneca Ag Products wonít include a merging of Garst Seed Company and Novartis Seeds.

DW: The merger between Zeneca and Novartis does not include Garst Seed Company because weíre part of Advanta. We do expect our ownership to change in the future. However, the entire ag chemical and seed industry is going through a great deal of consolidation at this time. For now, itís business as usual. We have grown our business each and every year since 1995, including acquisitions of AgriPro, PSA and Gutwien Seeds. We anticipate continuing this trend and providing excellent proprietary genetics for our customers.

AM: Whatís the secret to successfully marketing seed and remaining profitable in these difficult times?

DW: Our brands (Garst, AgriPro, PSA and Gutwein) offer the farmer excellent proprietary seed products. We feel we have an excellent research group that is constantly developing top performing products. We also have very good sales teams made of district sales managers, their sales reps and ag retail accounts and our agronomists. They are able to offer product and trait advice that helps our customers maximize yields. We offer our customers more trait options than any other company in a sound genetic package. We also make it easy for farmers to use these traits by stacking them in hybrids. We call this process G-STAC. We are able to stack these traits without yield penalties. Consistent hybrid performance, enthusiastic and aggressive sales force and marketing programs, and top-notch customer service and support - these are most of the factors that have helped our business grow, both in total volume and market share, each year since 1995. AM

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