Interview with Stine Seed CEO: I want to do things that benefit farmers worldwide
Dec. 14, 2017
By Xinhua writers Xu Jing Miao Zhuang Wang Ping
"I'm a farmer so I want to do things that benefit farmers worldwide," Harry Stine, founder and CEO of the world's largest private seed company Stine Seed, said in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.
75-year-old Stine grew up on a farm in U.S. midwest state of Iowa. He went to a small liberal arts college taking a general course in agriculture, then went on to Iowa State University and took some graduate work in agricultural economics for one year.
"On the farm I grew up on, we would raise a small quantity of seed, sell it to the neighbors and the margins were very small. We would just make a few cents," Stine said. "But on a new variety, we would get a little larger margin for one year. So I thought if I developed new varieties, I could have more control over them."
He started plant breeding in mid 1960s, first in soybeans and later in corn. Without attracting any notice, Stine has developed some of the most valuable agricultural products in the world, and applied more than 900 patents.
Today about two-thirds of the soybeans planted in the U.S. every year use genetics developed by Stine's company. Its soybean and corn seed genetics also have a strong presence in South America and other international markets. Forbes estimated in 2014 that Stine's company was worth nearly three billion U.S. dollars.
"I didn't envision that it would do quite as well as it has, we've been very lucky," Stine said.
Stine Seed joined U.S. President Donald Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in their visit to China last month, and signed an important collaborative agreement with one of its local partners in China. With this new platform, Stine Seed hoped to further strengthen its young but rapidly increasing presence in China, and to expand more efficiently and effectively.
Stine Seed entered China about seven years ago. "We did it at first in a smaller way. We've been gradually expanding on that. China is one of the largest countries in the world with a large population, so we think we want to be there partially because of that and partially because we just have an attraction to China. We like China, we like its people, we like its government," Stine said.
The seed company is now cooperating in both corn and soybean research with several Chinese companies.
"We take our genetics out of our system and we put them either directly into the Chinese companies or we cooperate and do research combining their genetics with our genetics to make superior material for the Chinese farmers," he added.
Stine made his first trip to China in 1976, and has been there three times afterwards. China "has changed over the last 40 years. China has made more rapid progress than any place in the world," he noted.
"I've always felt close to China, partially because all of our soybeans originally came from Asia, and China in particular," Stine said. "I'm grateful of the fact that we've been able to be successful based on the origin of material that came from China."
Never leaving his homeland in Iowa, Stine is a good friend of former Iowa governor and now U.S. ambassador to China Terry Branstad. "We have a lot of connections to China and have reason to think we'll do things very favorably." "I can't help but think our two countries together can do good things for the world," he stressed.
Stine also reiterated since there are many farmers in China, that's "one of the primary areas that we want to work in."
He said he does not care much about revenue as long as his company helps the Chinese farmers. Even if the company gets some revenue, "we would leave that revenue in China and do research."
Stine Seed's exports to China are minimal at present. "We never planned to have large exports to China. We'll export small quantities of seed that haven't reproduced in China and distribute it there. We want to get our genetics there, we don't need to be exporting large quantities of material," he explained.
In face of widespread concern that farmers may become dependent on his seeds, Stine said it is okay for the farmers to keep some seed of their own. "Over time as they become more affluent and intellectual property becomes better protected, it will change," Stine said.
Responding to frequent criticism that all Stine Seed has is yield, Stine said frankly: "That's true, we admit that. But we think that's by far the most important thing."
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