Reflection on Earnings

April 9, 2010

On Wednesday morning, I sat with my coffee cup in hand and listened via Webcast to our CEO Hugh Grant talk with investors and analysts about Monsanto’s second quarter earnings. At the same time, I had my Tweetdeck and Google Reader up to scan and follow the latest comments from our farmer customers. It was refreshing to hear what our execs said in that call, because it matched what I’ve been seeing online from our customers.

What Monsanto executives said this week—including CEO Hugh Grant—was the result of feedback they picked up from meeting with farmers across the U.S. for the past several months. What we heard consistently from these farmers is that they find value in our products and in our technology. But we also heard that our pricing methods on new products such as Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield and Genuity SmartStax can be an obstacle for customers who want to try new technologies.

This feedback is partly why we reset our financial goals yesterday, acknowledging that the goal of doubling gross profit from 2007 to 2012 was unlikely.

As Mr. Grant told analysts yesterday:

“We refuse to achieve our growth objectives to the detriment of our customers….we can either make a stubborn push for the targets we’ve set for ourselves and strain those valuable customer relationships – or, we can do more to work with our customers and let the growth come more naturally. That will change some things.  I’d like to say it’s pure altruism, but the reality is it’s the right thing to do for the business – today and tomorrow.”

Moving forward, we’ll be looking at ways we can provide customers with more options to evaluate the technology and then decide the right combination of products for their farm.

**Please note: The comments section has been shut down temporarily until Monday, April 12 due to some maintenance on the site. If you’d like to leave a comment on this post, please check back on Monday.

California Dreamin’ with Corn, Soybean, Wheat and Sorghum Growers

The 2010 Commodity Classic Show kicks off today in Anaheim, California. Classic (as its known to hip ag-sters) is the annual meeting of the nation’s corn, soybean, wheat and sorghum growers, hosted by the National Corn Growers Association, American Soybean Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, and the National Sorghum Producers.

We have a team of Monsanto employees at the show providing live coverage to growers back home to growers who don’t want to miss out on the action.

Be sure to check out the Commodity Classic hub on our Monsanto Web site during the show for event coverage. Attendees are tweeting live coverage of the event using the hashtag #classic10. You can also follow these Monsanto twitter accounts for coverage of Learning Center sessions – @MonsantoCo, @Kath_Monsanto, @KateOnline, Tyne_Ag.

We’ll also be posting photos and updates on the Monsanto Company Facebook page.

Here are some other great blogs and people to follow on-line for Classic coverage.

Blog Coverage

AgWired.com
NCGA’s Flickr page

NCGA’s Corn Commentary
NAWG’s Wheat World

Twitter Coverage

@cornfedfarmer
@Ken4Corn

@mpaynknoper
@INSoybean
@agissues2010

@agchick
@ASA_News2

@NECGA

@agriblogger

Leland Uden poses with his daughter on his farm.

After washing his combine after harvest, Nebraska farmer Leland Uden takes time to pose for a picture with his daughter. Cleaning the combine is just one of the many chores Uden and many other farmers have to knock out during the fall and winter months.

During the cold days of February, Nebraska farmer Leland Uden sometimes recalls a joke he’s heard from his non-farming friends:

“I wish I could be a school teacher in the summer and a farmer in the winter.”

Uden’s winter to-do list proves at least the farmer part of that joke isn’t true. A farmer’s job doesn’t stop at harvest. Here’s what Uden has been up to since his crop was harvested in November:

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CEO Hugh Grant addresses an audience at Monsanto's recent shareholder meeting.

It’s not the first annual shareholder meeting I’ve ever been to and it won’t be the last.  This one was a little bit different for me – it was the first one I’d been to since joining Monsanto.

My previous experiences with annual shareholder meetings at a previous job were fairly formulaic.  There are specific things that are required and a specific process through which that needs to be done.  Votes to be tallied and input to be received.  They were dry and I was hoping this one would be better.

I asked my colleague who was organizing the meeting if she needed any volunteer help.  Knowing all the cool jobs were likely taken, I braced myself for something like running between buildings.  Somehow other people’s schedules had changed and I got the chance to help host some of our farmer customers, including two brothers I’ve known for years!  Score!

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On Dec. 2, I talked with farmer/dealer Dave Morris about his farming operations in southeastern Minnesota. Since then, I’ve been talking with Monsanto people who support what Dave does on his farm. Some help from more than a thousand miles away; others, like Bruce Drager, are somewhat closer.

Bruce is Monsanto’s Technology Development Representative (TDR) for southern Minnesota, and his responsibilities include working closely with Dave Morris. “I’m a technical resource for Dave,” Bruce says, “and I provide support for both his seed dealership and farming operations.” Dave is one of Bruce’s “cooperators,” meaning that he provides a testing area for new seed with new technology and new germ plasm before it’s commercialized in the marketplace.

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A row of corn stands tall inside the Monmouth, Ill. learning center.

It’s quiet right now at Monsanto’s Monmouth, Ill., Learning Center, as least from a visitor perspective. During the late spring and summer months, a steady stream of farmers, seed dealers, investors, academics, international groups and youth organizations tour the facility to learn about the latest seed technologies being researched and tested in the field.

“And farmers come for another reason,” says Tom Eickhoff, Learning Center manager. “They come with issues and problems they’re dealing with right now on their farms, and how we might be able to help.”

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I really enjoy days when I can sit down to talk to a farmer about his farm.  The fact that the history of family and land are so intertwined, rose to the top of my awareness several years ago.  It was exactly what happened recently when I sat down with Mike Haley of Haley Farms in West Salem, OH.

There is a quiet pride that I sense in talking to farmers including Mike, but I think that pride is frequently more placed on those who came before or the potential the future holds than what they are doing today.  Appreciation was clear as Mike started our video visit off with his being the fifth generation on this farm.  And if that wasn’t enough, he reflects on the fact that there were others in the area before that who share cropped to get the capital needed to buy their own land.  The history continues to build – Mike & his brother were the third generation working to finish harvest this year.

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