Tierra has also hired people from MNCs. It employs 172 people, up from three in 2012. If Atluri’s Rs 111-crore projection for the 2018-19 financial year is accurate, that would land Tierra on the top 10 list of Indian cotton seed companies. For comparison’s sake, the biggest cotton seed company at the moment is Tamil Nadu-based Rasi Seeds, which earned about Rs 824 crore ($115 million) in revenue last year.
But let’s not get carried away. Having Asia’s largest collection of germplasm is one thing, “but using that germplasm to develop products which are ruling in the marketplace is much more important,” says Usha Zehr, chief technology officer at Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Private Limited (Mahyco). “That is how you’d value the germplasm—is it material that gives you things which you can bring to the market?”
“If I look at a plant, I can say within a minute if it is good or bad. For an inexperienced person, it takes probably one hour to say whether it is good, and why it is good.”
Bhattacharya, the research director, knows this and has recruited top breeders from MNCs. Like CHM Vijayakumar, who has 26 years of experience studying and understanding rice.
On a hot afternoon last month, Vijayakumar was submerged in a field to his waist, deciding which of multiple rice varieties would sell. Tierra is investing heavily in the breeding program, cognisant that a company’s fortune is dictated by its pipeline. Farmers are fickle, and a company’s season is only as good as its seed.
“Nowadays, products are not running for very long periods, replacement is happening rapidly,” Kaundinya of Advanta says. “So, in that case, market share will depend on how good your next product is.”
Tierra’s laboratory is stocked with genetics machines worth several crores. There are greenhouses, cold storage rooms, and a landscaped indoor garden. There are also around a hundred acres of fields in Hyderabad and Bengaluru, where the seeds are bred. All this is vital to helping Tierra achieve its vision of being India’s Monsanto, Atluri says. The breeders are now sifting through the seven truckloads of seeds inherited from Monsanto, identifying traits that will give Tierra a commercial edge over competitors. They have found that, for whatever reason, many valuable seeds in DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto’s pipelines were not commercialized.
Worried about competitors?
Bhattacharya is paranoid about his competitors gaining access to their intellectual property. And if, for some reason, Tierra’s inventory does not get sold, it will affect the company’s top line. Still, Atluri believes that the decades of experience of the three founders will help. As long as they remember to stay relevant.
“If we sit idle in the lab without thinking about the future, you see what happened to Nokia, you see what happened to number dial phones and what happened to Ambassador car,” he says. “You have to be on your toes to see what is happening around and put some investment.”
For now, Tierra’s future looks green.
Jatin Singh, 40, is staring out of the large, glass window. Beyond the tiny water droplets desperately trying to hold on to the glass pane and failing. Staring into the overcast sky and the drizzle.
I’m right in front of Singh, but he’s looking outside.
Seconds pass. A few more seconds. But he isn’t done yet. His face is thoughtful. Angular, fair with dark, bushy eyebrows and deep, brown eyes. His salt and pepper hair, at least the strands in the front, fall over his forehead in the shape of a crescent moon. A small crescent strand on the left, a large, full-of-hair one on the right. He is dressed in a light blue shirt with folded sleeves, dark blue casual trousers, and casual white shoes. Hunched over, with both arms resting on the table, he is staring outside. And after what seems to be a remarkable pause, he says, “What do you know about lightning?”
I don’t know much. I can’t say if I have given it much thought.