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Developing value-added crops such as nutrient-enhanced, low-phytate corn or high-oil corn requires the latest advancements in breeding and selection processes, but that's not the toughest part of the job.

"It's a little like being a psychiatrist," says Kim Kuebler, director of marketing with ExSeed Genetics, referring to the detective work involved in figuring out who needs what kind of grain, where it's needed and when, and then selling the end user on the whole idea.


ExSeed Genetics and Optimum Quality Grains are two companies formed specifically to take on the task of bringing identity-preserved, value-added grains to the marketplace. Current products target livestock producers. Those producers use value-enhanced grains to improve feed efficiency and product quality.

What both these companies do, in a very simplified explanation, is determine what characteristics in a grain are desired by end users, including livestock producers, and work with seed company partners to develop seed with those traits. Once the seed is developed, the companies work to create not only the markets for the value-enhanced grains but also the entire system that takes the grain from seed company to grower to end user.

"Our job is to make end users aware of our product and help them understand the value," says Tom Sauber, director of pork business with Optimum. "We then work with the operations team at Optimum to create a value chain."


"We look at the ExSeed Enhanced brand like Procter & Gamble would look at it, as a consumer brand," Kuebler says. "We want to establish the same level of reliability and comfort, like a consumer brand would do.

"We compare our business model to that of the computer industry," he continues. "We look for platforms such as our nutrient enhanced corn, called NutriDense, to deliver our 'software' or seed traits."

Seed companies then distribute those traits in the branded hybrids they sell.

Optimum Quality Grains doesn't sell seed products, either. It licenses traits that originated with Pioneer and DuPont to seed companies which then market seed capable of producing Optimum products.

Optimum's Sauber and his counterpart on the company's beef side, Steve Soderlund, director of beef business, work with Optimum's researchers so they know what traits will bring the most value to the end user.


As part of Optimum's sales and marketing group, Sauber, Soderlund and a team of regional account leaders reach out to potential customers in what they call a "two-pronged approach." Optimum works most directly with large, commercial producers and feed mills.

Optimum relies on its seed partners to reach the second customer group, the grower feeder, the livestock producer who grows his own corn to feed his animals.

"It's difficult to focus on the grower feeders from one office because there are so many of them spread all over the country," says Doug McNeely, director of operations with Optimum. "Seed companies already have contacts with them. For our part, we provide technical expertise and training to help the seed companies."

"We work with people pretty much one on one," Soderlund says. "They look at our data, calculate the value and make a decision whether they will try it or not. Generally they'll trial-run it themselves to see how it performs for them. Once they've tried it, the repeat business is pretty good." AM


Debby Hartke is a writer and communications consultant based in St. Louis, Mo.

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