Farm Industry News Blog

Seed Tech Changing Fast

Talking with Bill Wyffels you get a sense that the term 'fast changing' really means something in the seed business.

Here at Farm Industry News we're delving into both the hardware and software of agriculture technology and when I talk software I'm often talking as much about seed as I am the latest "app" for your tablet.

This week I had the chance to spend time at the Wyffels Hybrids Corn Strategies event that the company puts on for customers. The event includes exhibitors and top-quality speakers who share new information with growers. It didn't hurt that it was held on a picture perfect day in a part of Iowa - near Oxford Junction at Willimack Farms - where the corn looks fantastic (see photo below).

It was an interesting event and I was glad I could be there for at least a good part of it. And while there I was able to grab a few minutes with Bill Wyffels, president. It's not often these days that you talk to someone in this business whose name matches the company name.

Bill was busy so we were happy to get a couple minutes to talk. And I asked him what keeps him up at night. He laughed, then talked about inventory. Yep inventory.

You see for a seed company, the stock in trade is what they have to sell you and while in the iron business that can be managed - mostly - by putting on more shift hours or expanding the plant for a seed company the term inventory means something different.

Then Wyffels quantified the challenge. "About 70% of what we sold this season didn't exist two years ago," he notes.

For Wyffels, as with all major seed companies, the complexity of managing for hybrid type, tech packages and more gets even more complicated when you add in the ability to actually produce seed. Keeping that inventory solid also means ramping up winter product. "We had to do too much of that last year," he notes.

In some years as much as one-third of that inventory had to be produced in places like Chile and Argentina, and in some years it's less than 10%. For this year, Wyffels doesn't think he'll need to do winter production at all to meet customer needs - there's been that much rain. Talk about a change from 2012.

The "software" for your farm that's packed into each of those seeds is a mini-miracle that arrives in that bulk container (do you really use bags anymore?) ready to plant. The logistical journey from plant breeding to test plot to production to processing to delivery is pretty complex. Add in the fact that seed companies deal with Nature as much as any farmer and …well let's just say it's an exciting business.

There was a time when the launch of four or five new hybrids in any given season was a big deal in this business. Today, seed companies - like Wyffels - may launch a dozen new hybrids in a single year each one targeted at very specific geographies. Add in the greater choice of new tech packages that are coming on stream and it's obvious that Bill Wyffels Jr., along with his brother, Bob, are running a company that's a lot different than the one started by his father - and he's running it successfully too.

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