The trend for decades has been small seed companies giving way to larger seed companies. And over the last few years, large seed companies have been gobbled up by even larger ones. Just as many predicted a decade ago, the line between chemical companies and seed companies has blurred, with companies once super-strong in pesticides now focusing their expertise on biotechnology and delivering traits to farmers though GMO seed.
In the midst of all this, many predicted during that same time a decade ago that small, independent seed companies would be extinct by 2010, just like dinosaurs of days gone by. Yes, there's been consolidation. But the small independents still command a significant share in the marketplace. Most are able to obtain the same technology that larger players can obtain, through licensing agreements with the companies that developed and now market the technology.
As of this month, there's actually a new name on the independent seed front. Two small companies combined to form one bigger one, although it's still a relatively small company by today's standards. Denzler Seed of east-central Indiana and Bird Hybrids, Tiffin, Ohio, joined forces to become 1st Choice Seeds.
Leon Bird of Bird hybrids searched for enough farmers to buy shares in his company to from a wholly-farmer –owned company a few years ago. He put together a prospectus, and found some who liked the concept. His strategy was to keep decision-making in the hands of farmers, the people who use the technology and should be able to profit from it as much as the people who invented it and sell it.
However, Bird found the hill too step to climb. Unable to find as many investors as he needed, he continued to operate his company over the past two years, with the help of Dave Nanda, a retired plant breeder, and Mark Borden, a long-time seed sales veteran, based in east-central Indiana, near New Castle. Bird sold seed from Iowa to the East Coast, although most of it was planted much closer to his base of operation in north-central Ohio.
By throwing their hats in the ring together, 1st Choice Seeds now has availability to the vast majority of technologies on the market. The company is even licensed and ready to offer SmartStax hybrids to those who want to buy them to plant in 2010.
Yet Mark Denzler wants the new, small company to be known for something else. He wants their niche to be service, service like you've never imagined before. "When you buy from us and you farm on a reasonable scale, we're going to provide scouting and work with you all the way," he says. "We will help you figure out which hybrids should work best on which fields on your farm.
"We'll be large enough to offer all the options you want in terms of traits, yet small enough to come to your farm and offer service," he notes. He believes that's one reason why small, independent seed companies will continue to not only survive but thrive- their ability to fill a niche.