An exclusive interview with Thunder Seed’s Paul Adams
Earlier this summer, Thunder Seed hosted its annual dealer launch, bringing all owners, dealers, and team members under one roof, recapping numbers, and discussing all of the innovations, research, development, and exciting things on the horizon for Thunder. It was also the first time since the pandemic that Thunder Seed Canada joined the U.S. dealers, further bringing value and perspectives to the keynotes and information that was shared throughout the dealer launch.
I had the privilege of sitting down with Adams Seed owner and Thunder Seed co-owner Paul Adams to shed light on the company’s unique approach to seed development and dive deeper into the rumble Thunder Seed is bringing to the seed world. Adams is an integral part of the Thunder Seed family and his insight and expertise in the seed world brings an even greater layer of knowledge to everything going on in both the field and behind the scenes.
Q: I was interested when you were talking about the Thunder Seed product line development and some of the key relationships with all these different major breeding programs. Can you share more about that?
A: Thunder has had a great relationship over the years with pretty much all the genetic providers in the industry. Mike Dietrich (Thunder Seed COO) has done a fantastic job. And of course, prior to Thunder Seed, he was with a major genetic supplier. So he has great background experience with genetic knowledge and relationships with people, which definitely has helped us through the years. The beauty of an independent seed company is that we can have those relationships with pretty much everyone because we’re not really signed in one camp, so to speak. It gives us access to go wherever we need to go or pick and choose what works best for us
Q: How does that allow you to keep data points and analyze progress, and, in turn, share that transparency and growth with other Thunder Seed team members at these dealer launches?
A: Our customers are seed dealers also so they can see progress and genetics. One thing that really allows us to be different is that we get to choose from the whole gamut of genetics on both corn hybrids and bean varieties. We get to tailor-make for what’s in each grower’s specific area. And that’s allowed us to really move forward as is. A lot of these genetics might be relatively small demographic-wise, but you have a hybrid that works better for very specific areas.
A larger genetic company can’t use that hybrid because it doesn’t work across a wide demographic. Like they say, ‘You can’t be everything to everyone.’ But we try our best to do that. And that’s one of the things that our dealers are really seeing is that we’re one of the few companies that is able to do that because one variety doesn’t have to work from Wisconsin to Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Ohio, Washington, wherever—we really tailor make it for where our focus is on selling.
Q: What can you tell me about these new corn traits?
A: With some of these new traits and genetics coming in, we’ve looked at multiple genetic platforms. And they’ve come on really strong in the last couple of years to fit our area and our needs, whether that’s great agronomics on the genetic side thrown in the corn, or some different choices for customers with different traits, or whether we’re seeing more Rootworm pressure. We’re seeing people wanting to go different routes, so we’re seeing a little bit of a difference with what our customers want—and we are able to provide products with different trait platforms.
Q: What can you tell me about some of the different relationships you’re building across the nation with companies like Bayer and Syngenta and what you’re learning from them?
A: For a lot of the replicated trials, they’re focusing the research a lot more in our trade areas. So we’re able to (Mike Dietrich, especially) look at stuff right in our backyard, more than we ever have before, just due to the fact that a lot of these major companies want to advance their traits and want to advance those genetics, probably more so than they ever have before. Just because of all the consolidation of the seed industry, the number of seed companies is getting less and less, and the genetic companies and a lot of these breeding companies are getting bigger and more robust.
They’re investing a lot more into what we call ‘earlier hybrids’ on the corn and bean varieties. So, we’re seeing the Corn Belt move further north. These companies are investing more in their research and product portfolio as they go north. That has helped Thunder Seed, just due to the fact that it’s just more product to select from and better products to use. But also, we’re seeing where Thunder Seed’s footprint really is—being able to see stuff right in our backyard is ideal.
Q: How important is Thunder Seed and this area in the grand scope of all this nationwide and global research?
A: Well, for a while, I’d say Minnesota, North Dakota, and Canada have been one of the largest expanding corn markets in the world, just due to the fact that we’re getting earlier hybrids. You’re seeing a lot more corn going on farms and you’re seeing this yield trend go up. I know when we first started, 200 bushels of corn was not really a thing. And now that’s kind of the standard. So the corn market has really expanded and their research has really expanded in to this area.
Q: What role are drones playing in all of this? I understand drone imaging is used to help identify crop health, diseases, and other things?
A: Plant health is a big thing. And you can even look at plant health with drone imaging and pickup things like stand counts, diseases, or insect pressures. Way back, it involved walking out and scouting that field, which took time and manpower and you missed a lot of stuff. For example, with satellite imaging, which we do on my farm alone, we raised silage for a large dairy farm in the area, and they used all satellite imaging and drone work to actually figure out harvest order in the field. So it’s used every day. Technology has been a huge part of [our operations]. Just by drone imaging, I can tell which plants are healthy and how well they’re doing.
Q: How does a drought-resistant seed work and what goes into that? What are those characteristics that you try to implement into a newly developed seed?
A: Anything that is a DroughtGard® Hybrid is actually a genetic trait made by Bayer Crop Science. In contrast, some companies may use similarsounding words to designate products that are drought-tolerant but not with an actual genetic trait. So the DroughtGard® Hybrid is actually the only platform that is technically a genetic trait that is the modification of the corn. So we’ve got some hybrids that are in a DroughtGard® trait trade platform in the bag, but we also have hybrids that are naturally selected that are showing drought tolerance. We’ve got a 95-day that’s a shorter stature plant that’s very drought resistant. So a lot of times, Mike will go to research plots and look at certain hybrids to see how they react in drought conditions in replicated trials. We’ll get to see how all those hybrids perform right in our back door. Now with this dry trend here, we’re needing something with a little bit more drought resistance—it’s a priority now to get these hybrids out there and see how they perform in stressful conditions.
One of the things that I really want to stress is that there are major seed companies in the industry that are nationwide. And there are regional seed companies in the industry that are a lot more local—a lot more home base. The advantage that I see from a regional company is back to that fact that we are very specific in the area that our customers are in. Like I said, we live in those areas, we do business in those areas, and those hybrids and those bean varieties are looked at on a more focused scale. If you took what we do as regional companies to sell in a [multiple] state area versus a major seed company, they would have to have 15 to 20 times more selection of hybrids to fit the niche that we’re fitting. With a regional company [like Thunder Seed], you’re going to get something a lot more tailor-made for your own backyard.