Forget T-bills and mutual funds. Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a subsidiary of chemical giant DuPont, boasts the best yields. One of the world's largest commercial seed producers, Pioneer uses genetic research to develop hybrid seeds designed to increase the quantity, quality, and sustainability of crop yields for farmers. The company produces Pioneer brand corn hybrid and soybean varieties, sunflower, canola, rice, sorghum, and wheat, as well as forage and grain additives. It offers ag services, including crop management and agronomy. Since its acquisition in 1999, Pioneer has grown through new products and services aided by DuPont's deep research capabilities and cash. Pioneer has customers in 90 countries.
Pioneer's operations are part of its parent's largest business segment, DuPont Agriculture. All told, agriculture represented about 50% of the parent's research and development expense in fiscal 2011 (ends December). Pioneer itself has more than 1,800 researchers in 90 research centers located in 25 countries. Areas of study include insect and disease resistance, genomics, quality traits, agronomic traits, and precision farming technologies to better manage crop production. Seed is produced by the company or contracted with growers and sold under Pioneer or other brand names through an independent sales force and, beyond North America, though subsidiaries, JVs, and independent producer-distributors.
Agriculture generates roughly one-quarter of DuPont's sales and operating income. Pioneer seed sales, primarily corn and soybean, accounted for 16%, 17%, and 18% of DuPont's sales in 2011, 2010, and 2009, respectively. In 2011 volume sales and pricing rose, due an increase in productive acres and Pioneer's introduction of Optimum AcreMax 1 (corn) in North America.
Scientifically engineered seeds are more expensive, but produce larger and more drought resistant yields of the kinds of crops preferred by food processors and feed companies. Strategically, Pioneer targets sustained global demand for corn and soybean coupled with higher prices for innovative technologies. It is among the industry's most aggressive developers and licensors of proprietary corn and soybean genetics and biotechnology traits. A strain of hybrid corn developed by Pioneer is reportedly capable of a 7% higher yield than other strains grown during a drought.
Pioneer's focus includes R&D on products for specific regional application, which may require regulatory approval, partnerships and other collaborative efforts, and acquisitions. After a two-year battle, the company in 2012 gained approval from competition regulators to purchase a majority interest in Pannar Seed, a seed bank based in South Africa. The tie-up was initially objected to as it reduces the number of competitors to Monsanto and Pioneer-Pannar, which opens the door to a spike in seed prices. As part of the transaction, Pioneer is committed to spending about $7.3 million to establish a regional research center to bring higher-yielding, improved products to Africa. An additional $2.4 million is earmarked for programs supporting South African farmers.
The deal follows other investments by Pioneer. In late 2010 Pioneer acquired Seed Consultants Inc. of Washington Court House, Ohio, and Terral Seed of Lake Providence, Louisiana. The additions offer support operations, such as information management and financial, insurance, marketing, and seed services. – less