Benary’s Matthias Redlefsen On The Importance Of Independents [Opinion]

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Matthias Redlefsen

Over the past six years, the number of seed breeding companies for the professional bedding plant market has undergone a substantial consolidation. Major players that had been institutions for generations of growers have been taken over. Syngenta bought Goldsmith Seeds, Takii bought Sahin and Global Flowers, Benary bought Bodger Seeds and PanAmerican Seed bought Kieft, just to mention the tip of the iceberg.

In fact, today, only seven relevant breeders are left who develop and produce seeds for our industry: PanAmerican Seed, Syngenta, Sakata, Takii, Benary, Hem Genetics and Floranova. That’s it, worldwide.

The majority of these players are an integrated part of larger corporations, which are also operating in different markets or on different levels of our industry. And some of them are independent breeders, who do nothing other than breed seeds for the bedding plant industry. I believe that these independent breeders are important, if not key, for the success of our industry. Here are four reasons why:

Choice

Everybody wants choices. If there would be fewer or no choices in the genetics available, growers, retailers and, finally, consumers would become dependent on a single source. How existential this dependence can be may be observed if we look into arable field crops or vegetables, where growers and farmers have lost most of their influence and entrepreneurial freedom to global breeding corporations. Independent breeders offer choices to our industry and keep the competition alive — which brings me to the next point.

Innovation

It is simple: Independent breeders bring choices. Choices bring competition. Competition brings innovation. Without this simple rule — to cite examples from our company — there would be no tuberous begonias from seed like the Non Stops, no pentas from seed like the Graffitis, no Ptilotus ‘Joey’ and no Big begonias. We all know from our daily experience that innovation is easier the less organizational constraints there are. Real breakthrough innovation needs to question the status quo. This is much easier in the organizational environment of an independent breeder than in an integrated corporation. Here, innovation not only can be developed faster but also can be focused much more on the customer.

Focus

Because independent breeders have simpler organizations and a clear mission, they can focus on what really counts: the customer. Independent breeders are less busy with corporate integration and have the luxury of focusing exclusively on how their breeding activities answer the customers’ needs. They strive only to develop products and solutions that really fit the needs of our industry. At Benary, for example, we get up and go to bed with breeding new flowers from seeds on our minds. We do nothing else. If we fail here, we are dead. For more than 170 years, everybody in our company has known that.

Flexibility

If it was only size that mattered, the dinosaurs would not have died out. Since Darwin, we know that it is not the strongest or the largest who survive, but those who can adapt to change. The more complex an organization is, the harder it is to adapt to a world that is changing at an increasing speed. Here, the versatility of independent breeders with a simple set-up is a clear plus.

I am not claiming that the world of independent breeders is bright and rosy. On the contrary: Staying independent is hard work, day after day. The recent consolidation shows just how hard that is. Compared to large integrated corporations, independent breeders have the burden of scarce technical and financial resources. They have to be on their toes and need to have a good eye on the profitability of everything they do.

But without independent breeders as disruptive innovators, our industry would be less innovative, less successful and — after all — less fun.

Matthias Redlefsen is Managing Director (and sixth generation owner by marriage) of Ernst Benary Seeds.

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