In the 1960s, nearly 250 companies sold seed corn. That number grew to a high of 303 companies by 1996. During the next 14 years, the seed corn business changed and witnessed a precipitous drop in numbers; by last year, only 166 companies were left.

These numbers are a stark reminder of how the seed market has changed. But while the total number of seed companies has shrunk, experts say competition among the remaining seed brands is strong as each company — large and small — does battle for the gorwer’s seed dollar.

“Without a doubt there has been a tremendous evolution in the seed industry,” says Greg Ruehle, CEO of the Independent Professional Seedsmen Association (IPSA). “The consolidation we have seen in the seed segment is not unique to what we’ve seen in other parts of [agriculture].”

Reasons for the shrinking number of seed companies vary — acquisitions, partnerships, and business shuttering. “Will the trend of fewer seed companies continue? Probably,” notes Ben Kaehler, general manager, Dow AgroSciences seed affiliates. “Look at the automobile market…. It is a mature market and has seen its share of consolidation and brands go away.”

Andy LaVigne, president of the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA), says industry consolidation has slowed. “While we can’t predict whether there will be another wave of mergers, the current relationships are strong within the industry as each segment solidifies their marketing base,” he says.