Cotton breeder Ido Tal discusses a new model for selling seed
Interview by Paul Meyer
Ido Tal is the founder of Texas Seeds, a cotton seed company dedicated to breeding Pima cotton seed for regenerative operations. He has operations in the United States, Mexico and Israel.
ACRES U.S.A.: How does your by-the-acre model for seeds work?
IDO TAL: That’s the business model. I really think it’s the way it should be. We work in America, in Mexico and in Israel; in Israel, nobody pays us by the pound or kilogram or bag — they only pay us per acre. That means that there is mutual trust between us and the customer. The customer could say they planted 1,000 acres, or they could say 800. Whatever they say, we send them the invoice according to that. We know exactly how many bags they got from us, but we can’t really know how many acres they planted or replanted using our bags.
We began doing this because I knew that the best kind of business was one where there’s mutual confidence between us and the customer. Every company in the world wants customer confidence — to be in the heart of their customers — but they often don’t do it themselves! When we say to the grower, “How many bags do you need?” and we don’t charge him per bag, and then he just lets us know how many acres he planted — that means that we trust him.
ACRES U.S.A.: What’s your strategy for charging per acre as opposed to per pound?
TAL: I want to let growers decide for themselves how many seeds per acre — what population — to plant to get maximum results. I didn’t want them to be influenced by seed costs. So I decided that we would charge the same cost whether they plant a high population or a lower one. The grower doesn’t have to pay extra for a second planting, because they already paid for the acre. If they do their first planting and they only get a half stand, they have a decision to make — to continue with it or to replant. They can make all of those decisions without thinking about the seed cost. So they can do it fast and well.
We didn’t start this way. We used to sell seed by the bag or by the pound, but I felt that there was a conflict of interest between us and the customer. A grower would tell me, for example, that maybe they needed more bags of seed, because they had lost some of their crop to hail. And since we were selling bags, I was happy. I shouldn’t be happy for something negative like that! But, since we changed that and started charging by the acre, I’m with them! I’m aligned with the grower. I’m not
against them; I’m with them.
ACRES U.S.A.: And have you been profitable in selling seed this way?
TAL: Yes, much more than before. Because it’s easier to enable good results for growers this way. Before, maybe they would have two or three bad years, because they would hesitate before replanting. Now they can also consult with me much more freely. I tell them, “Let’s try a second planting,” and they know that we will not get any extra payment from this second planting, so they know that I’m objective. Doing it this way shortens the distance between me and the customers.
ACRES U.S.A.: Have there been other benefits in terms of your breeding efforts?
TAL: Yes, I think it has helped me with breeding. The good connection with the growers helps me in many aspects of the breeding. I get better feedback from them, because I’m part of their group. I’m a supplier, but I’m part of them — we are all working on the same project. We have economic challenges, climate change, and many other challenges, but we work together. The information I get back from the growers is much more accurate, and that information is very important for me as a
breeder. And if the business is more profitable, then we have more resources for breeding work. The growers know that our profitability will go back to them, because they’ll get better cotton varieties, and therefore they’ll get better results.
ACRES U.S.A.: What traits have you been breeding for? Are you trying to breed for organic production?
TAL: In the beginning, I wasn’t trying to breed specifically for organic production, but, in essence, yes. Ever since I started breeding I’ve tried to find natural solutions to pest and soil disease. Of course, I was just thinking about spraying fewer chemicals.
We started producing organic Pima cotton in Israel 20 years ago — in 2002, I was very positive about it
from the beginning. It was a very small part of the business economically, but it was important for me, because I saw that it could change everything.
Organic is like the leading animal in the herd. We were able to dramatically reduce our spraying of chemicals in conventional cotton because we realized it was not necessary in the organic fields. It was always in my head from the start — that organic would lead to a change in the whole industry. I would be happy if one day the whole industry were organic. It will take time, but I don’t think there’s any reason that it couldn’t happen.
ACRES U.S.A.: What steps are necessary for that to happen?
TAL: More and more success. People watch their neighbors and their friends. If it doesn’t look so complicated, if it works, then it’s like a fire in the forest — it moves fast. We just need some time for this to happen. We need cooperation with the textile industry and the retailers. We need good PR of regenerative organic methods. We need to publish summarized data about soil in regenerative fields compared to standard fields. We need every U.S. citizen to know about it. We need to create life in the fields, we need to regenerate living soil with healthy biology, and we need the public with us. After all, we are working for them. It’s their life, their environment, their America that’s in danger.
For example, I work with a farm in Israel that’s growing some organic Pima. Pima is an extra-long staple cotton. Right now it makes up 2 percent of cotton production worldwide. It’s the most expensive, highest-quality cotton. Most of it is grown conventionally. In Israel, we grow almost all Pima — close to 100 percent. So this farm grows the niche of the niche — organic, regenerative Pima. The growers told me that this year he got better yields in the organic fields than in the convention ones. And of course the price is much better and the costs are much lower.
Today, regenerative organic Pima cotton is white gold, and farmers who grow it according to the best know-how will have a huge profits. Some of them will have a marginal net profit of 50 percent, if not more!
ACRES U.S.A.: What are some things organic growers are doing to reduce spraying? Cotton is one of the most sprayed of all agricultural products, right? …
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