Know seed industry inside out

Here’s some light on how the U.S. seed industry works.

There are three basic functions each seed company must perform besides having enough funds to manage and operate a business. Any company must arrange for genetic lines, produce the product, and market and sell it. Producing the product may be growing pure lines in soybeans and wheat, or producing hybrid combinations for corn. Here’s how this process works for corn.

Key Points

• All companies must acquire genetic lines, produce seed and market it.

• How various companies do these three things varies widely.

• Some companies only grow for others, without their own retail brand.


Major seed companies, including Monsanto, Pioneer, Syngenta and Dow AgroSciences, have their own breeding programs. Then there are foundation seed companies that supply genetics to all other independent seed companies, plus sometimes to the major companies as well. Here’s my rundown of major players in the foundation seed industry in the U.S.

Monsanto: Company acquired Holden’s Foundation Seeds several years ago. It sells foundation seed and those developed by Monsanto breeders under the Corn States brand. They use a hybrid model, or a closed architecture, which does not allow seed companies purchasing product to cross these lines with other lines.

Green Leaf Genetics: Ownership is 50% Pioneer, 50% Syngenta. This foundation seed company was started by Pioneer and Syngenta to provide a choice to independent seed companies. It has an open architecture, meaning it sells seed of individual lines so the buyer can cross them to any lines they want to make a hybrid.

Illinois Foundation Seeds (IFSI): This is majority-owned by several Midwestern independent seed companies, with minority ownership by Dow AgroSciences. It markets corn genetics to companies under the SGI brand. It gets some lines through independent breeders.

Dow AgroSciences: The company licenses inbred lines to IFSI and traits to Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont and IFSI.

MBS Genetics: It’s an independent, privately owned company. It gets corn inbred lines from Syngenta and other national brands, plus from international companies in Europe and South Africa, and from independent companies and breeders.

Thurston Genetics: This company is owned by BASF. It gets corn inbred lines from BASF, Syngenta, Monsanto and independent breeders. BASF also collaborates closely with Monsanto on foliar fungicides, drought-tolerant corn and N-efficiency genes. Thurston is also a broker for the wholesale market. Other brokers include Seedline Inc. and Smart Seeds.

Bayer: It does not have a corn breeding program but does develop LibertyLink soybeans with resistance to Ignite.

What it means

This explains for the most part where seed companies get their genetics, no matter how big or small the company may be. Plant breeders work behind the scenes to develop inbreds that become the parent lines for hybrids. The lifeblood of any company is hybrids that produce top yields. They come from the right combination of inbred lines.

Nanda is a crops consultant and director of genetics and technology at Seed Consultants Inc. Contact him at Nanda@seedconsultants.com or 317-910-9876.

This article published in the December, 2010 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.