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Native Traits Corporation Disrupts the Seed Corn Industry
Dr. James Friedrich
Chief Executive Officer
Native Traits Corp
Dr. James W. Friedrich
Interview conducted by:
Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine
Published – December 2, 2019
CEOCFO: Dr. Friedrich, your site shows that Native Traits is at the forefront of modern agriculture. How so?
Dr. Friedrich: We are disrupting the current way of doing things in the seed corn industry by lowering the cost of seed production. EaSY (Enhanced Seed Yield) is a genetic trait that delivers a double digit improvement in hybrid yield. It also makes production less expensive for the seed company and thereby lowers the cost of goods.
CEOCFO: How would a farmer make use of EaSY?
Dr. Friedrich: The farmer gets the benefit in two ways: First, there is a movement in the seed industry to lower the cost of seed as it is sold to the farmer. For the last twenty years, there has been a huge increase in the price of hybrid seed corn. There is now a push by several companies to reduce the cost to the farmer for the hybrid seed that he purchases. The other benefit is that EaSY hybrids yield more per acre compared to normal hybrids.
CEOCFO: is the seed farming community aware of Native Traits and EaSY? Do they understand your process?
Dr. Friedrich: Probably not much because we mostly work with seed companies. In a way, our target audience is the seed company. Our technology works like Intel Inside for computers. The EaSY trait affects the performance of the product, but it is not the main brand name. We are quite happy to simply be supportive of seed corn companies and help them provide a superior, less expensive product to the farmer.
CEOCFO: How have you been reaching out to seed farm companies and how will your new blog help in that effort?
Dr. Friedrich: The blog keeps seed companies informed of the most recent products that are coming through our pipeline. That way they can anticipate how new developments may affect their profitability and their ability to serve the farmer.
The other aspect is that we have great relationships with seed companies. We have developed those relationships over many years. The blog supports relationships that we already have even while we are looking for new partners.
CEOCFO: How are you creating something new and improved and how often is a new line available?
Dr. Friedrich: The greatest resource that is available and also the one most difficult to use is the seed bank that is maintained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Ames, Iowa. The USDA seed bank has over twenty thousand strains of corn. These ancestral strains carry genes that have not been previously utilized in the seed corn industry. The challenge is finding them and then transferring those genes to a commercial hybrid so that the farmer can benefit. To do this, we have developed a specialized technology called known as NT RECOVERY. By using this technology, we are able to efficiently screen ancestral lines.
CEOCFO: How do you do that screening?
Dr. Friedrich: The screening technique is basically a field screening technique. This is important because it means we are closer to the market. Most of the time, new discoveries never get beyond the laboratory or the greenhouse. They do not make it to the field and of course the critical part is having performance in the field.
CEOCFO: Are there other companies that have a similar technology or is Native Traits unique in the industry?
Dr. Friedrich: We are quite unique. There are companies and universities that from time to time find unique traits in ancestral strains of corn. The real challenge, however, is to transfer those traits to a commercial line. That is the hard part and it is what makes NT RECOVERY very powerful. We are really the only party that can do that.
CEOCFO: How can you do that?
Dr. Friedrich: The technology allows us to screen individual plants in the field. We can screen hundreds of plants very easily.
CEOCFO: Would this technology work for other types of plants in addition to corn?
Dr. Friedrich: Yes. It is fairly well known in biology that a gene that exists in one species oftentimes can be found in another species. Corn provides a model system that is fairly easy to work with for genetic research. In other words, once we have identified a gene in corn, someone could look for it in other species by using molecular probes.
CEOCFO: What is ahead for you?
Dr. Friedrich: What is ahead is basically scaling up the application of the technology. We deliver products to the marketplace in the form of genetic lines of corn. Seed corn companies license the lines and use them to produce hybrid seed that they sell to farmers. That is what is ahead for us. We are well past the proof of concept stage. We are making a concerted effort to reach out and partner with companies that can help deliver the product to the marketplace.
CEOCFO: What have you learned in how to put together a blog that is meaningful?
Dr. Friedrich: You can use different types of metrics to see if you are having an impact. For example, recently we shared one of our posts on LinkedIn and within a couple of days, we had over 400 followers.
We know that we are getting the attention of quite a few people. That is one metric and you can see what plays and what does not. Many times it is timing because people are very busy. You would think it would not matter, but it actually matters quite a lot.
CEOCFO: What surprised you as Native Traits has grown as a company and a concept?
Dr. Friedrich: I would say that it is always surprising how difficult it is to scale up anything. The old axiom that we have all heard is “Invent a better mouse trap and the world will beat path to your door.” Actually, it is not getting them to your door that is the problem, it is working with people in a way that is mutually beneficial.
I enjoy interacting with other companies. It is rewarding to me personally as well as professionally. I think the old axiom that if you invent something, everything will just fall into place is a myth. I think you really have to work on getting things from the proof of concept stage to the marketplace and that is not as easy as people like to think it is.
CEOCFO: Are you seeking partners or investors as you move forward and are looking at substantial growth?
Dr. Friedrich: Yes. We are looking for additional investors and we are also looking for people who can help us take things to the marketplace. Sometimes they are the same people.
We have had a tremendous experience with angel investors. They have been very supportive and patient. Remarkably, small seed companies are also very supportive, both in terms of being willing to work with us as well as investing in the company. Investment from small seed companies and angel investors has worked out quite well for us.
CEOCFO: Why is Native Traits an important company?
Dr. Friedrich: It is an important company on many fronts. We oftentimes ignore the social benefits of a technology. We are naturally focused on making money, but it is also good to deliver a product that benefits the consumer in the grocery store. Native traits are naturally occurring and non-
“Native traits are naturally occurring and non-