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Sowing the seeds of tomorrow: Michael Martin has grown a successful career in agribusiness.

Michael Martin planted his first corn crop as a teenager--his sights set on winning an award from the Future Farmers of America. But when the Southern Corn Leaf Blight epidemic of 1970 devastated his crop, Martin was given an entirely different gift: the county extension agent sat him down and explained the genetics of resistance, and in a moment of clarity, a career was born.

Today, as Advanta Seeds worldwide manager for dent and tropical corn, two of the many varieties arown, the Orrville, Alabama, native, is responsible for designing and helping to implement a strategy that will expand the company's presence in all the major corn seed markets of the world.

As the No. 1 commercial seed industry in the world, corn is big business. The annual retail value of corn seed planted in this country alone is estimated at $1.8 billion. Globally, 325 million acres are seeded with corn each year, with the U.S. leading the way at 82 million acres. In addition to being our planet's top livestock feed grain, corn boasts over 3,500 uses, including human consumption, ethanol fuel and environmentally safe detergents, inks and paints. Corn is the most diversely utilized crop grown.

To better compete in this massive field, last August, Zeneca Seeds of Britain and the Netherlands-based Royal Vander Have Group merged to form Advanta Seeds. Increased geographical coverage has given this hybrid company a critical mass of market share, resulting in big player status. With projected annual sales of over half a billion dollars, Advanta is the world's largest supplier of sunflower and canola seeds. In corn, however, they rank in the top five.

"Corn is the world's major strategic crop," explains the 41-year-old Martin, who took office shortly after the merger. "For Advanta to hold long-term status in the seed market, our position must rise." Currently, Martin is developing a research, sales and distribution plan to create international production synergies that will take Advanta to increased success in corn--a path he knows well.

Martin, who grew up on a small cotton and livestock farm, earned a B.S. in agronomy from Alabama A&M University. He then went on to Iowa State University, where he received his M.S. and Ph.D. in plant breeding and cytogenetics. In 1982, as Martin was completing his doctorate, the Garst Seed Co., already a leader in hybrid corn, split with their partner company, which had managed all research and development. In need of an R&D team, Garst hired one of Martin's former professors, who in turn snagged Martin as his research center manager.

By 1990, Garst had become part of Zeneca, and Martin was the new director of what had become the second largest R&D group in America. By 1996, he had a staff of 247 and an annual budget of $18.5 million.

Under Martin's guidance, Garst broke ground as the first company to commercially introduce herbicide resistant and gene-stacked corn. These hybrids now give farmers increased control because they possess multiple traits of resistance to a variety of herbicides, diseases, insects and poor climate conditions.

Martin now stands at the forefront of providing for a burgeoning populace. Advanta's combination of shared geography and technology, such as DNA fingerprinting and genetic engineering, creates unlimited possibilities. In the U.S., 64% of the increased yield in the corn crop since the 1920s can be attributed to genetic improvements; the rest to better cropping practices. Such advances, however, have historically not been global, but as Martin states, "We can now bring this to the rest of the world."
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Title Annotation:at Advanta Seeds Inc. an international seed producing conglomerate
Author:Karp, Hal
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Biography
Date:Jul 1, 1997
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