GREAT FALLS, Mont. – It was not just a name change when Nutrien Ag Solutions acquired Northern Seed, LLC, last fall.
Nutrien Ag, the world’s largest ag input and services center, acquired Northern Seed’s seed companies, along with their cutting-edge private research center, based in Bozeman, Mont.
“It is just a great union for all of us – combining the best of what Northern had to offer with the best of what Nutrien Ag had to offer in order to give farmers all the tools they need to farm,” said Ryan Holt, Nutrien Ag Solutions division seed manager, based in Great Falls.
Nutrien Ag already had crop protection and nutrient products, including agronomy centers with agronomists and crop advisors that scout with farmers to figure out what their crop needs.
In fact, Nutrien had everything a producer would need to farm – except for seed.
“Northern was primarily a seed company, and what Nutrien brought to the table is the entirety of what farmers need as far as inputs for the growing season,” Holt said.
Nutrien Ag Solutions brought its own line of products, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizer, under the Loveland label of products, to the partnership.
“As a manufacturer, Nutrien Ag is able to focus on and develop products that help Montana producers,” Holt said.
The combination of the two companies allows the businesses to utilize their resources to be able to offer the many products growers need.
Nutrien Ag began purchasing seed companies over the past decade.
“We started with one seed plant, and over a decade’s time, we’ve developed five plants. Then we added a research program to help identify genetics that work best for farmers,” he said.
In addition to the seed cleaning plants Northern had, Nutrien Ag has multiple other locations across the state, including Hardin, Billings, Belgrade, Great Falls, Fort Benton, Conrad and Shelby.
“Montana Seed Growers Association has approved all of Nutrien Ag Solutions conditioning facilities as ‘Certified Seed Conditioning Plants,’” Holt said.
Producers can buy seed, seed treatment, chemicals, and crop protection and nutritional products from all of the locations now.
“They all have agronomists or crop advisors available and they walk the fields with the farmer, helping evaluate what is needed,” Holt said. “We have that full service availability if that is something the farmer wants.”
Dale Clark, plant breeder and director of research at Nutrien Ag’s research center in Bozeman, Mont., explained the venture as a way to better manage your crop’s health – much like going to one pharmacy instead of many.
“When you go to different pharmacies, each one has no idea what the other is giving you, so there is no one making sure your prescriptions don’t interact with each other,” Clark explained.
When a producer goes to one shop for his soil sample, his seed, seed treatment and other inputs, it is “a lot easier for people to figure out what the solution might be.”
“They do your soil sample, provide you the variety, the seed, the chemicals, and they are out there every day scouting for you, doing the tissue tests, if needed. They know the right prescription for your soil and crop,” he said.
Nutrien Ag purchased Northern Seed’s plant breeding and research facility in Bozeman to develop its own varieties and develop research that was of interest to Montana producers.
“We wanted to develop the research center to breed, test and find new varieties for the Montana grower,” Holt said. “The main goal was to find the best possible options for the grower, no matter what region he is in. Whatever seed works best for the farmer, that is what we want to offer him.”
Nutrien Ag Solutions offers various seeds from different companies.
“The primary purpose is finding the right varieties foreach Montana grower, no matter where his farm is located, and no matter which company provided the seed,” Clark said.
The center tests newly-released varieties from MSU, Syngenta, Limagrain, WestBred and others, and works with them on new products that would work for Montana farmers.
Clark begins breeding/crossing program
Clark began his own breeding/crossing program to supply the best genetics for each Montana location when he started at the center six years ago.
“We started crossing the best (parent) varieties with the best varieties, trying to come up with something better,” he said. “For Montana, we’re especially looking for sawfly tolerance and solutions to grassy weed problems.”
Nutrien research teams span out across state
Nutrien Ag research teams test plots across Montana and Idaho, collecting plot data about varieties, seeding dates, population trials and more.
“We share the information with farmers during the summer at plot tours, and have the data available,” Holt said.
In July 2020, Nutrien Ag had plot tours in Conrad, Fort Benton and Billings. They shared information about varieties, seed treatments, and other products that could help their crops be successful and yield well.
“Nutrien Ag Solutions will continue to invest in this Montana-focused research and product development, whether it is wheat or other small grains, seed treatments, nutritional products such as liquid fertilizers, and other products. That is the real value of the combination of the two companies,” Holt said.
New Nutrien Ag spring wheat on way
Part of Clark’s goals for the spring wheat program is increasing spring wheat quality, in particular protein strength, for Montana’s export markets in Asia.
“The Asian markets want stronger protein that used to be in the old varieties 10-15 years ago, like McNeal,” Clark said.
Asian markets purchase Montana wheat for its high quality to blend with lower protein wheat.
“The new varieties that are sawfly tolerant don’t have quite the gluten strength that the Asian markets need,” he said.
Clark will soon release the first Nutrien spring wheat variety.
“It is looking promising. We’ll have a new higher quality sawfly tolerant spring wheat for those areas of Montana that need sawfly tolerance,” he said.
Nutrien’s new spring wheat will be a “non-preference” wheat, which means the sawfly does not prefer this wheat.
MSU has found out those non-preference varieties have a solid stem at the very base early on, and that turns away the sawfly.
“It goes away later on, and that discourages the sawfly from laying eggs,” Clark explained.
Evaluating seed treatments for farmers
The research center tests seed treatments, as well as varieties. The plots are divided into two. One side is planted with seed coated with seed treatments without micronutrients, and the other side is planted with seed coated with seed treatments with micronutrients.
“We’re evaluating if it really pays to use a seed treatment. For example, zinc is one of the micros added,” he said.
Clark acquires seed treatments from Loveland Products or other seed treatment companies that add micronutrients to the seed treatment.
“We’ll evaluate to see if we see any differences between the products as to growth, quality or yield,” he said. “Then we evaluate the seed treatments on a larger area, such as a 10-acre plot. We want to get that proven information to provide the grower with a good base for his decision-making.”
Nutrien has its own Loveland product in the seed treatment trials called “Awaken ST.” Awaken is a seed treatment with micronutrients in it, demonstrated to help with earlier and faster germination, healthier stands, higher populations and higher yields.
Nutrien Ag Solutions plans to continue with Montana-focused research and development programs for all crops with the goal of supplying the highest quality and best yielding genetics for Montana farmers.