Selling Seed Treatments to the Next Generation of Growers

Gumballs. When I first saw a treated soybean I thought I was looking at one of those flavorless gum treats from an old gumball machine. If you have been in the soybean business for awhile, the treated seed is probably as normal as the clouds rolling by. But at the time of my first encounter with a treated soy seed, I was still relatively new to the crop protection sector. Fast forward nearly a decade later and I still place treated seeds up there with the miracle of air travel.

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The next generation of both ag professionals and customers are interested in the story behind the loading of a seed. Don’t be fooled by the term “next generation” of agriculture professionals as if they are coming soon. Ag school grads are not minted every other decade — they are entering our workforce everyday. So obviously the “old pros” work together with the next generation already in multiple industries including agriculture at any given moment in time. However, what is always changing is the slow push and pull of market demands. The shifting approach toward buyer behavior along the food value chain has entered yet another phase.

Today’s consumers not only want transparency in their varieties of fruits and vegetable offerings, but they also seek access to better choices in categories containing soybean oils, corn syrups, and other broad acre ingredients found in CPG items. Although many treated seeds are intended for industrial uses including livestock feed and biofuels, broad acre varieties obviously make their way into processed foods and cooking oils on grocery shelves.

According to the United Soybean Council, consumer demand could be satisfied through innovation like blockchain supporting the soybean supply chain. An example cited envisioned a restaurant supply company’s customers preferring a premium soy oil that traces back to the grower to ensure the end-user is receiving the value for the premium paid.

If blockchain holds the long view together from farm to grocery aisle, more exposure is put upon the farmer and seed seller to not only consistently produce quality crops through global economic uncertainty, climate fluctuations, and variable expenses, but to also tell their story.

Thankfully, according to a recent report from CropLife’s Jackie Pucci, there is a plethora of seed choices for the grower to help prepare for the market uncertainty in 2021. Meanwhile, the demand for transparency downstream is not going away for the grower.

Today’s emphasis on new ways of doing business were critical topics in a recent seed treatment panel that I helped organize through the Biological Products Industry Alliance (BPIA) last month. With consumer confidence driving growth for biological and sustainable solutions, the topic is very current even for seed treatments.

One of the panelists, Sean Blomgren of Blomgren Seed, mentioned the “baton being passed” to the younger generation that is significantly more aligned with biologicals and sustainability. So what are the behaviors or approaches needed to connect the younger seed purchaser or farmer? Is it the same as what the consumer expects today when shopping online and in-person?

The seed treatment panel overall went well beyond discussing traits and yields. Blomgren stated that the younger decision maker wants to be seen as a partner with the seed company or seed treater instead of being sold. This customer relationship, according to Blomgren, puts the burden on the manufacturers and partners in the channel to be more transparent with topics such as MOA and data claims. Transparency, traceability, and pursuits toward an overall sustainability are the demands of both the young grower and the young consumer at the other end of the food value chain.

The next generation customer craves a good story. Probably now more than ever since the pandemic has curtailed most new movie and TV production! Easy access to online data, increase in social media usage, and the billions pouring into ag innovation only increases curiosity about agronomic practices whether you are the consumer, investor, or value chain partner.

Although seed treatment technology has been around for many years, the story of the treated seed stacked with solutions like biostimulants is a human achievement worth telling. Manufacturers and retailers should continue to pursue the relationship model with growers and seed treaters. It’s not the branded play but the human story, the seed story, and the data behind the brand. As part of the dynamic that is the customer journey, consider the partnership approach to the younger generation grower. The customer as partner will then help push forward the amazing seed treatment story downstream to the next generation consumer. The next generation is not coming soon. They are already here.

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