A Grower's Perspective
Illinois corn and soybean grower John Reifsteck says that building trust is the only way a seedsman gets a chance on his farm.
November 12, 2010
Gaining a grower's trust when it comes to recommending seed is a daunting task, but there's no shortcut on the road to building the trust necessary to make headway with a customer. Champaign, IL, grower John Reifsteck shared some of his thoughts on his approach to the seed purchasing process, and how he views his relationships with trusted seed advisors.
How do you make determinations on which hybrids and varieties to plant?
There are really three areas of focus for me. The first is my own experience with the seeds I grew the last couple of years. I have a pretty good system for testing on my farm that uses precision ag farming tools to know how each performed in the field. We compare the results with those of other hybrids and varieties in the same field and get a real good feel for performance.
We will run a split planter, do side-by-sides in a field, run yield maps and compare colored strips to determine top performers. We plant about half of our corn acres in two hybrids, and try to plant some of each of these in every field. It's a good check to see how they are doing.
I go back and look at my own records and go through a culling process of what did not do well in the past. I then look at the newer hybrids and varieties and identify which had done well, and consider how to fit them into next year's planting scheme.
Second, I block out some time, usually a full day, to go out to the major yield trials, especially what the land grants have put together. Then I just start going through results. Nationally-branded seeds are generally planted in multiple states and in multiple locations, and often when a particular variety or hybrid performs well across all locations and therefore in a wide range of soil and weather conditions, it will perform well on my farm.
In any given year I will choose two or three that I have never grown before and try them.
Finally, I check in with people in the industry. You do have to rely on the seed company to provide important information on what they think I need to use on my farm — they do want you to be a customer and to be happy with their products.
That said, you do have to be cautious. Companies will push ahead with varieties to get more acres out, so it may be tempting to plant more to a promoted variety than is prudent. I won't plant a huge percent to a new hybrid or variety because I need to have some experience with the variety on my farm. This fall, I can tell you that we were disappointed with some of the new varieties. The life expectancy of hybrids and varieties is not what it was, and maybe not all the testing that has been done in the past is done today. You just have to accept that seed companies will push to get some varieties and hybrids out there, and be cautious.
Honestly, there are some selections that are consistent performers that I've been growing for three or four years.
Is managing around the constant variety/hybrid turnover difficult?
I certainly tell the seed reps when a seed is performing well, but you can see the handwriting on the wall if they decide to de-emphasize a variety or hybrid. Things get replaced, you know it will happen. The risk on their side is that I may choose something else from another company.
Some of the varieties and hybrids I use are three or four years old and still perform well, yet are very reasonably priced. So when technology changes and prices go up substantially on seed, it really has to perform if the seed company is charging super-premium prices. It has to have me saying, "Wow, what is that and where can I get it?"
What time of year do you get serious about making a seed purchase?
One positive that has emerged recently is that we're not being asked to lock down purchases in late summer. For a while, that was a real push for that, and I think we have abandoned that process and we're being more rational about waiting and evaluating. I understand that the seed salesperson wants to lock down the sale, but making a decision when we are not into harvest and have no idea what's going on out there is too much to ask. The only reason to buy seed really early is if we think it will not be available, or if we receive preferential pricing. Otherwise, why make a decision before you have all information you can get?
Who do you trust to help you?
Dan Schaeffer, one of the seed reps I use, is great guy. He is out there with all the hybrids and varieties all the time in my plots and in his own plots. When Dan says to me, "You need to have some of this seed," then I trust his opinion.
I can never deal with someone I do not trust. My advisors know what I am doing and how I am doing. If they say I need to be doing this or I should be worried about that, I believe it. But this is earned trust over the years ... you can't just walk in the door and tell me something.
So how can someone get into your inner circle?
It is a slow process. You can't just throw somebody out there. One way you can do it more rapidly is by association — who you are associated with, such as the seed company that you are representing.
In general, you have to start off by getting to know the farmer and being around the farmer. And start small — suggest a hybrid or variety that would help solve a specific problem I am having. Here is some we got that will work, and if you have a relationship with a reputable seed company you will most likely get in with that farm. Sell some units, start small and build it — and the way you build it is by being right.