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Editor's Note: Larry Schuett is president/CEO of NC+, a farmer-owned seed company headquartered in Lincoln, Neb. After 24 years as the company's controller, Schuett was named to the top spot at NC+ in 1997. NC+ markets a full range of seed products in 30 states, as well as to international customers.

AM: The biggest controversy in the seed business today has been generated by biotech products. How does NC+ look at its research and product lines as a result of this issue?

LS: The GMO issue is certainly causing great concern for all companies in the seed industry, including NC+. As this controversy evolves, the question of research emphasis becomes more complicated. We currently have all of the new technologies in our lineup, and we will continue to develop new biotech products. However, we will be watching the issue closely to determine our future direction.

Once we decide to release a hybrid or variety for sale, the question becomes how much of that product to produce. With the uncertainty over GMOs, determining production quantities is as big a challenge as deciding which products to release for sale.

It's true, we are not one of the 'giants,' but our size may offer some advantages in dealing with this issue. We feel we are better able to react to changes in the market.

AM: Distribution in the seed industry is undergoing great change. How do you see your traditional farmer-dealer network mixing with newer distribution channels, such as retail dealer sales and Internet sales?

LS: NC+ has had both farmer-dealers and retail outlets for many years. The strength of each varies by geographic area. We try to evaluate each area and choose the method of distribution that seems to best suit our needs. We plan to continue using both channels and to give them the tools and training they will need to provide outstanding customer service.

The use of the Internet poses a whole new challenge. It is very easy to take orders on the Internet, but the distribution involved in these sales will be the problem. We are running a test program on Internet sales with our newly formed organics division. We hope to learn things here that we will be able to incorporate into our traditional business.

AM: How does a regional seed company compete during uncertain economic times and against national companies?

LS: There is no doubt that the competition within the seed industry has gotten fiercer with some of the larger companies having new ownership. The seed industry is no different from all other industries in that people still buy from people. It is our goal to make sure every farmer is given a chance to buy from NC+.

I've described the last sales year as the 'Free Seed, Cheap Seed' year. I believe that the current sales year is going to become known as the 'Year of the Financing Programs'. Inventory will not be there to give away. Because of low grain prices, financing, and the costs associated with it, will be one of the major decision areas for today's farmer.

AM: What marketing plans do you have for this new year to carve out your niche in the crowded seed market?

LS: We have an aggressive advertising campaign that emphasizes NC+'s independence. With all of the changes in the seed business, we think this message is really striking a chord. We are also trying to be more aggressive with our sales programs. Our marketing plan for the current year is centered on an attractive customer early-order program. We also have one of the best early-payment discount programs in the industry.

We are addressing a fairly small but growing market with our new organics division. We have farmer-owners who have the capability to organically produce seed corn. This is certainly a niche market right now but one that will continue to grow with the current biotech concerns. We are also expanding our white corn-breeding program with our recent acquisition of the Illinois Foundation Seed white corn program.

AM: Planting season will be here before we know it. What keeps you excited about this industry as the decade begins?

LS: Changes that have taken place over the past couple of years have been incredible. Change seems to happen on a daily basis, giving each of us a chance to do and try something different. As we progress through the decade, I see more and more specialization taking place. Each crop will be grown for a specific reason, whether that is for feed, food or pharmaceuticals. I believe the American farmer will have more choices about what to produce on his land than at any time in the past. New uses will increase demand, thereby increasing the price he can get for his product. AM

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