Ag Retailers Expect Flat Seed Sales in 2021, But Not From a Lack of Trait Choices

Abundant trait choices notwithstanding, the outlook for seed is somewhat muted going to 2021. The majority of respondents to the 2020 CropLife 100 survey believe seed demand this year will be flat for the three major crops — corn, soybeans, and cotton.

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Based upon the annual USDA estimates, growers are expected to plant more than 90 million acres each of the two most popular row crops, corn and soybeans, during the 2021 growing season. For corn and soybeans, the views among CropLife 100 respondents are very even. According to the survey, 36% think corn acreage will grow in 2021, 44% think it will remain flat, and 20% believe it will be down. Soybeans’ split is similar — 41% up, 42% flat, and 17% down.

According to 2020 CropLife 100 survey, the seed segment’s overall sales last year dropped 2.1%, from $4.8 billion in 2019 to $4.7 billion. Seed has continued to chug along as a share of retail revenue, climbing from 9% in 2001 to 15% in 2020 among CropLife 100 retailers but has been relatively stagnant for nearly a decade.

One bright spot is the expanded seed choices growers and retailers have for 2021. As BASF’s Marc Hoobler, U.S. Soybean Agronomy Lead, said, “It’s a tremendous time to be a soybean grower.”

The EU announced approval of Bayer’s XtendFlex beans in September. Bayer will launch XtendFlex beans, which confer tolerance to glufosinate, dicamba, and glyphosate, in the U.S. and Canada in 2021 and expects to be in a position to supply 20 million U.S. soy acres for the selling season.

EPA’s decision a month later to re-approve dicamba for five years extended to the industry more clarity on the future of the Xtend platform. Bayer estimates its Xtend soybeans were planted on around 50 million of the 84 million acres of soybeans planted in the U.S. in 2020.

“Trait choice is what drove our momentum in 2020, and as we go into 2021, that trait choice we can bring to our retail partners is why we have momentum,” Jim Shertzer, Head of NK Marketing for Syngenta North America, said. “It’s important we stay close to our customers to help them navigate seed decisions, because there’s confusion out there as well.”

Over the past season, Enlist E3 (Corteva Agriscience) seed supply came up as a frequent concern, but for 2021, it looks to be a non-issue.

BASF put a robust plan in place, including launching 19 varieties of the Xitavo brand, MS Technologies’ Enlist E3-traited soybeans, of which BASF is the exclusive distributor, as well as with LibertyLink GT27 in its Credenz brand.

“We feel very confident in the maturities that we are participating in that will have adequate supply to meet the market demand, Hoobler said. “What we’re seeing is the primary foundation trait in all of these platforms moving forward is tolerance to Liberty herbicide,” he said. “That’s the kingpin as we move forward with Enlist E3.”

In mid-October, we spoke with Brian Barker, Corteva’s Commercial Unit Leader for Multichannel Seeds, for an update on Brevant and to learn more about what is in store for 2021. Corteva and its retail partners across the Midwestern Corn Belt pulled off the brand pivot and go-to-market approach well, especially considering the timing mid-pandemic.

Looking to 2021, Corteva expects retail partners will take a broader, more aggressive position on Brevant upon seeing performance and data, especially on corn with its headliner Qrome rootworm trait package.  “They’re starting to see (results) really pop, so that gives them a lot of confidence,” in addition to the appeal of new products the company will add to the lineup.

On the soybean side, Corteva has heavily transitioned to E3 in all its brands. “We’re getting strong uptake from retail — orders are well ahead year on year,” Barker said. “Enlist is going to be bigger and broader than last year, and we’ll see what happens with the dicamba labels, but we think Enlist is going to grow in its share out there in the marketplace.”

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