It Starts With Seed - 7

Seed Company Leadership Profiles

Pamela Smith
By  Pamela Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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Top row, Garth Hodges, BASF; Jackie Applegate, Bayer. Bottom row, Judd O'Connor, Corteva; Justin Wolfe, Syngenta (Photos supplied by the respective brands)

They are often called "The Big Four." BASF, Bayer, Corteva and Syngenta now dominate the sales of agricultural seeds in the United States. Other firms, including at least 100 independent seed companies, also play a vital role in the industry.

DTN/Progressive Farmer has been running a special series called It Starts With Seed to help farmers start thinking about their seed purchases and preparing for next year.

In this, the seventh and last story of the series, we present the following Q&A profiles put faces to leadership within the megaplayers and sort through the brands they sell.



Garth Hodges has more than 35 years of experience in agricultural business across several countries. Born and educated in South Africa, Hodges began his career in field research and development of crop-protection products. He joined BASF through the acquisition of Bayer's Seeds and Traits business. In January 2020, he became vice president of the North American Seed and Trait business for BASF, leading the field crops seed business.

Seed brands: Credenz, Xitavo, InVigor, FiberMax, Stoneville, Ideltis, Nunhems

Q: What makes seed unique within your company portfolio?

A: Almost three years ago, BASF made a significant decision and commitment to seeds with the acquisition of a multicrop seed business from Bayer. It was a unique purchase because it was focused entirely on seed. The company continues to invest in these seed assets, and the brands are growing in value across North America. More important is the ability to provide solutions for growers and the ability to connect crop protection, seed treatment, seeds and traits, digital, sustainability and agronomic advice to provide a partnership with our growers.

Q: Considering the consolidation within the seed industry in recent years, what questions do you want farmers asking of you?

A: Growers need to know that seed companies are continuing to invest in innovation and keeping up with the ever-changing challenges growers face for profitability and sustainability. They need to be certain this innovation is conducted safely and with care for the environment. Proactively thinking and acting with solutions in mind, and connecting all the elements will ensure the very best outcome for the grower.

Q: What new seed products are you bringing to market?

This year, 2021, BASF successfully launched Xitavo, a new soybean brand, with the Enlist E3 trait alongside its traditional Credenz brand. Hybrid wheat finally has a name -- Ideltis -- and we hope for introduction in mid-century. We continue to make significant investments and advancements in germplasm enhancement and hybrid wheat breeding. Our focus now is on hybrid wheat seed production and tackling each of the challenges, breaking new ground and innovating along the journey. InVigor canola market share grows with continued focus on hybrid performance, adaptation, yield, disease management and unique pod shatter tolerance features. Both our cotton brands, FiberMax and Stoneville cotton, are growing market share by delivering value to growers with new varieties and improved performance. We plan to launch new traits for more options in weed management soon.

Q: What is the biggest challenge the seed industry faces today?

A: On a macro level, we face societal challenges to innovation and new technologies -- growing food, fiber and fuel sustainably is vital -- yet as an industry we remain rather fragmented. The challenge is how to partner within the industry and with growers, plus consumers to build confidence and trust so we can face the challenges and responsibly harness the advancements in innovation. Mother Nature poses many unique challenges of environment, weed, disease and insect resistance. The quest to solve them is the fuel that drives our insatiable hunger for solutions and innovation.



Jackie Applegate is responsible for the commercial performance of Bayer Crop Science in the United States and Canada. Applegate, who holds a Ph.D. in organic chemistry, began her career in 1992 as a chemist at Bayer, has held a variety of leadership positions and is now president of Crop Science North America and Environmental Science Divisions. She grew up in Union, Ohio.

Seed brands: DEKALB, Asgrow, Deltapine, Channel, Fontanelle, Gold Country Seed, Jung, Hubner, Kruger, Lewis, Rea Hybrids, Specialty, Stewart, Stone, WestBred Seminis, De Ruiter

Q: What makes seed unique within your company portfolio?

A: We think beyond the seed to a more holistic approach to help growers maximize their return on investment. Through FieldView, our leading digital platform, we're connecting growers to data-based recommendations that can help them select the most productive hybrid seeds.

Our goal is to combine seed, crop-protection products and other inputs to work together to deliver greater value to our dealer partners and growers in their operations. As a market leader in seeds and traits, we offer a germplasm library that provides options growers need to make the most of every acre.

Q: What attributes do you think your customer should be considering, and how does that influence your go-to-market?

A: Since taking this role earlier this year, one of my top priorities has been to listen to our farmer-customers and seed dealers to better understand what's on their minds and the challenges they face. And, I'm grateful for their candor and honest feedback.

Farmers want strong partners that provide farmer-centric solutions. We know that agriculture is facing more challenges than ever, and more tools and flexibility are needed to help growers maximize the opportunities on their farms. Our role is making sure we have the right product for our customers at the right place, at the right time with the agronomic support they need to back it up.

Q: What new seed products are you bringing to market? Why are they important?

A: We launched XtendFlex soybeans this year with strong grower adoption, providing more flexibility and greater weed control. We also announced key approvals on SmartStax PRO for corn and ThryvOn Technology for cotton, both providing unique modes of action addressing key pests for growers.

Looking ahead, we're excited about our fourth- and fifth-generation soy technologies, which will provide even greater weed control and flexibility to growers. We also believe that our short-stature corn will be a game-changing technology, providing numerous benefits to growers, including more precise in-season management and the ability to withstand more severe weather.

Q: What will the seed company look like in five years? 10 years?

A: By leveraging the data pool of FieldView, Bayer is uniquely positioned to unlock untapped potential for growers by analyzing more information faster and generating insights through tools utilizing artificial intelligence to develop a "tailored solutions" approach. These outcome-based recommendations help simplify the decision-making process for the grower, driving better outcomes and benefiting farmers' bottom line.

We are also working to create opportunities for growers to tap into new revenue streams through initiatives like our Bayer Carbon Program, paying growers for implementing climate-smart farming practices that help sequester carbon.



Judd O'Connor grew up in northeast Kansas. His career has been spent in various aspects of crop chemical and seeds business in the U.S. and Latin America. He was instrumental in bringing Pioneer, Dow AgroSciences and DuPont together into what is now Corteva Agriscience. He is now president of the U.S. Commercial business for Corteva.

Seed brands: Pioneer, Brevant Seeds, AgVenture, Alforex Seeds, Dairyland Seed, Hoegemeyer Hybrids, NuTech Seed, PhytoGen, Seed Consultants

Q: As a company, how do you keep in touch with what is happening in the field and make sure you are delivering to farmers?

A: Our teams are in boots on the ground, belly-to-belly conversations with the grower. We are an ag company, and we put the farmer at the center of everything we do. For us, the industry is still 100% about making sure we're doing a better job bringing innovative solutions and doing it in a way that we meet our farmer-customers where they want to be met. That means doing business with them in the ways they prefer.

Q: Where does seed fit within the Corteva portfolio? How important is it?

A: It's critical. It is the biggest piece of our business, particularly in the U.S., which takes nothing away from our rich crop-production portfolio. Seed is foundational. We are investing heavily to continue to develop germplasm to bring more yield and more economic and defensive traits.

Pioneer, our flagship seed brand, offers high service and the highest-performing products in the marketplace with unique genetics. We also launched Brevant as a retail brand to serve customers who want to make all their input purchases from one full-service location. We also have regional brands that are local and focused on specific geographies.

Q: What new products are coming from Corteva?

A: On the corn side, we will be fully ramped up with Qrome products in 2022. We'll continue to bring those in a broader portfolio of improved genetics with a balance of insect protection and agronomic performance. We will be bringing several new trait platforms to our corn lineup over the next few years that will help manage pests, control weeds and add flexibility, while continuing to bring improved yields and agronomic traits. In soybeans, we had a big launch this year with Enlist E3 soybeans, and we expect to see continued adoption, as we have an even broader portfolio that offers weed control and crop safety. This year, we also launched Inzen technology, a nontransgenic, ALS-tolerant trait in Pioneer brand grain sorghum.

Q: What is the biggest challenge facing the industry?

A: Farmers are experiencing some commodity markets right now that they've not had in some time, and we should be proud about the progress the industry has made during the past decades in driving productivity. But, if I had to pick one challenge, it is the need to make sure new technologies are accessible, both at the farm gate, as well as in export markets around the world. The challenge for the industry to keep innovation science-based rather than politicized is real.



Justin Wolfe was raised on a wheat farm in northern Montana and brings nearly 30 years of U.S. and international agriculture industry experience. He was appointed North America Regional Director for Syngenta Seeds in June 2020. Currently located in Chicago, he is responsible for overall leadership and operations of the seeds business for the region.

Seed brands: Golden Harvest Seeds, NK Seeds, Enogen Fuel and Feed, AgriPro Wheat

Vegetable seeds portfolio consists of 30 vegetable species and more than 2,500 varieties.

Q: What makes seed unique within your company portfolio?

A: In the U.S., Syngenta Seeds offers two corn and soybean brands, NK and Golden Harvest, with different go-to-market strategies. Golden Harvest works through Seed Advisors, which provides a close partnership and service to farmers. NK works with ag retail partners, who provide whole farmer service options for seed, crop protection and fertilizer. We also have a strong licensing seed business with Greenleaf Genetics, which services independent seed companies. AgriPro wheat offers farmers leading cereal genetics.

Q: What Syngenta seed products do farmers need to know about?

A: For farmers looking to diversify their operation, NK and Golden Harvest offer exclusive soybean genetics with a broad trait choice. Golden Harvest is also offering Gold Series soybeans, providing farmers proven performance with broad herbicide trait choice options. Our corn business has benefited from a revamped portfolio with new genetics featuring elite traits. We have introduced 60% more hybrids per year, increasing the number of new, high-performing corn products for precision placement with increased testing and trialing efforts in recent years.

This year, NK launched its Field Forged Series, which features several proven hybrids and varieties, as well as the latest portfolio additions, now available for the 2022 growing season to provide farmers clarity and confidence. Enogen corn for feed delivers a potential 5% increase in feed efficiency, which offers significant opportunity for farmers to reduce their environmental footprint of livestock production through reduced emissions and natural resource usage.

Q: What is the biggest challenge the seed industry faces today?

A: Climate change certainly poses a major challenge, not only in the seed industry but across the global agricultural landscape. Farmers are dealing with volatile weather conditions every season that require innovative solutions to help protect their crops. The products we're developing are focused on helping farmers sustain their operations against these changing conditions. For example, our Agrisure Artesian corn hybrids contain multiple genes for seasonlong drought protection that provide water optimization to help maximize yield in water stress situations.


Editor's Note: This is the seventh and final story in our special It Starts With Seed series.

Here are links to the previous six stories:

It Starts With Seed - 1

Crop Breeding Efforts for Climate Extremes…

It Starts With Seed - 2

Seed E-Commerce is a Growing Business…

It Starts With Seed - 3

Chart Identifies Seed Treatment Products, Active Ingredients…

It Starts With Seed - 4

Bt Trait Table for Corn Production Clarifies Insect Traits…

It Starts With Seed - 5

Growing Seed Offers Farmers Financial Opportunities…

It Starts With Seed - 6

Seed Tags List Important Information…

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Pamela Smith

Pamela Smith
Connect with Pamela: