Separate Vs. Equal

Seed Conveyor

Time was when the grower down the road was pretty much the only seed game in town. The guy really knew the seed and could help neighbors decide which hybrids and varieties would yield well on their individual acres. Then each neighbor went to his own retailer for fertilizer and ag chemicals, maybe scheduled his custom application, and certainly sought agronomic advice to ensure he got the most out of his seed.

That began to change in a big way about a dozen years ago, when retailers — needing to supplement shrinking crop protection margins due to the advent of herbicide-tolerant seed — jumped into the seed market, too.

Today, the question is not whether your dealership or cooperative should sell seed, it’s how you should sell it to stay competitive with the farmer-seed salesman, farmer-dealers, and other ag retailers in the area.

There are two basic schools of thought on managing your seed sales: separate seed and marketing staffs or a single sales staff that covers both seed and agronomics. For some retailers, there’s no question which philosophy is the better fit for their business.

Seed Sales Style I: Aggressive Separatists

Nichols Ag, a full-service grain and agronomy dealer located in Nichols, IA, is completely sold on the “divide and conquer” sales style. “We have completely separate sales and marketing staffs,” says John Hester, Nichols Ag owner/manager. “An aggressive dealership will separate seed from typical agronomy if it wants to outdo the farmer-dealers.”

There are advantages to having staff dedicated 100% to just one sector of the business. “When planting time comes, you have to have your best foot forward,” Hester says. “An agronomy retailer always falls back to his agronomic chemical/fertilizer side, and seed takes its lumps. The retailer has a tendency to give away seed to get fertilizer business.”

But perhaps the strongest argument for separate staffs is the ability to provide the grower-customer with strong expertise in both seed and agronomics. “You’ve got to have somebody be an expert,” Hester says. “For example, in a decathlon, you must be somewhat good at everything, but you can be beat in any event by someone who specializes. It’s the same in our business; you can’t expect to be an expert on nutrient management and also keep track of thousands of different hybrids.”

The agronomy side of Nichols Ag’s business keeps track of fundamentals like stacked traits and changes in nutrient and pest management, while the seed staff hones in on completely different issues, like drydown ability, standability, and yield.

“Our seed staff  has to focus on seed only, has to get into the details,” he points out. “There are hundreds and hundreds of varieties and hybrids of seed. Most agronomists simply will not be able to keep track of the advantages of one seed over another.”

How does the system work for Nichols Ag? “When a farmer comes in here, he comes to my office for agronomy advice, then goes to my seed salesman (or vice versa),” Hester says. “For example, I will tell the farmer he needs Roundup Ready corn to cure a problem and a rootworm stack for improved yields, and it’s up to the seed salesman to tell him which hybrid to use.”

That seed expertise is critical in maintaining the grower’s trust in your business. “A retailer wants to be the trusted adviser on agronomy, but when the farmer asks for seed, if the retailer doesn’t have the knowledge, it will lose out to so-called farmer-dealers who really know which hybrids to plant in the farmer’s field,” he advises. “If you hem-haw about seed after you do a good job with his agronomy recommendations, the farmer will take his business elsewhere.”

Seed Sales Style II: Equal Combination

The specialization style doesn’t work for everyone. One CropLife® 100 retailer says it boils down to one word for his business: economics. “With the profit margins we deal with, we can’t afford to send three different people out to the same grower,” he says. “That’s a luxury.”

This Southern retailer notes that each member of his sales staff “knows the proper seed varieties, and the proper fertilizer and pesticide applications. It’s not that complex,” he says. “The farmer knows all that, why shouldn’t the salesmen know it? You have a seed, it needs fertilizer and pesticide.”

“I tell everyone, this is not an Ivy League business, it’s a land grant business,” he adds.

Brian Hefty, manager of Hefty Seed Co., headquartered in Baltic, SD, agrees. “We can’t have all kinds of people running all over the countryside; we’re a narrow-margin business,” he says.

Instead, the company employs two or three agronomists at each of its 18 retail outlets in the Dakotas, Iowa, and Minnesota — and each one handles seed, ag chemical, fertilizer and equipment sales, along with agronomic advice.

“You can’t know just one aspect of farming and do a good job,” says Hefty. “The goal is to help your farmer raise better crops. Fertilizer, seed, chemicals, equipment — all of these tie in together to determine how good the crop is going to be.”

To ensure the sales staff is well-versed and well-rounded, Hefty Seed Co. provides training — usually between 10 to 15 days a year. Brian Hefty and his brother, Darren, teach the sessions throughout the year. “About 10% of our sales staff’s time is in training,” he says. “We offer the biggest and most extensive training program in our industry, because we want to remain the industry leaders in agronomic knowledge.”

The pair also host a half-hour weekly television show, “Ag PhD,” on DIRECTV and the Dish Network, a radio show, and lead crop production workshops — all to provide the latest information to growers.

“We have to know what’s going on,” Hefty says. “We farm 2,500 acres in Baltic ourselves, a test farm with trials.”

At Hefty Seed, the emphasis is on keeping the whole picture in mind when serving the grower. “It’s never just the seed,” Hefty says. “It’s the fertilizer, the disease control, the weed control, the bugs, and the weather. Any corn can grow, we just level out the playing field. If our salesman just focuses on the seed side, he’s missing 90% of the agronomic picture.”   

Leave a Reply

Seed/Biotech Stories

dicamba, Roundup Ready 2 Xtend
Crop InputsASA: No Dicamba On Roundup Ready 2 Xtend In 2016
May 16, 2016
While Roundup Ready 2 Xtend (RR2X) are tolerant to dicamba and glyphosate herbicides, no dicamba herbicides will be approved for Read More
Crop InputsGMO Pipeline Features Consumer Targeted Modifications
April 15, 2016
The newly approved GMO Simplot Innate potato, developed to produce lower amounts of the harmful-yet-natural chemical acrylamide, resist bruising, and Read More
Crop InputsReuters: Chinese GMO Seed Espionage Making Iowa Farmers Uneasy
April 12, 2016
Tim Burrack, a northern Iowa farmer in his 44th growing season, has taken to keeping a wary eye out for Read More
Peanut field
FungicidesArysta LifeScience Receives EPA Approval Of Fungicide Seed Treatment
April 5, 2016
Arysta LifeScience North America recently announced it received approval from the EPA of RANCONA V PD, a broad-spectrum fungicide dust Read More
Trending Articles
Food IT
Industry NewsCalifornia Event Will Mix Ag And Tech Professionals To Explore IT Solutions
June 20, 2016
Silicon Valley is hot on agriculture, and an upcoming event in California will bring together the food and tech industries Read More
Monsanto Luling Plant
Eric SfiligojWhat’s Next For Monsanto?
May 31, 2016
For the folks at Monsanto’s headquarters in St. Louis, MO, it has been an eventful few weeks. Back on May Read More
Soybean Plant closeup
Industry NewsMonsanto Rejects Bayer Bid; Open To More Talks
May 25, 2016
Monsanto Co, the world’s largest seed company, turned down Bayer AG’s $62 billion acquisition bid as “incomplete and financially inadequate” Read More
Eric SfiligojPity The Monsanto Haters
May 23, 2016
An old saying goes thus: “Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.” Given current events, there Read More
Monsanto Luling Plant
Crop InputsReport: Bayer Eyeing Monsanto For Possible Mega-Merger
May 16, 2016
Bayer AG is exploring a potential bid for U.S. competitor Monsanto Co. in a deal that would create the world’s Read More
Aerial Drone
Precision AgA Deeper Dive Into The Future Of Precision Ag
May 9, 2016
For about two decades now, through the good and the bad times, the ups and the downs inherent in agriculture, Read More
Latest News
Allen Summers Asmark Institute PSM Training
EmployeesAsmark Institute Sponsors 25 ResponsibleAg Auditor Trai…
June 21, 2016
The Asmark Institute has announced plans to provide 25 scholarships through their affiliated State fertilizer and agrichemical associations to help encourage Read More
Kennebec Elevator
CropLife 100Wheat Growers Celebrates Kennebec Elevator Grand Openin…
June 21, 2016
Over 250 patrons and guests were on hand to celebrate Wheat Growers’ Kennebec Elevator grand opening. South Dakota Secretary of Read More
Land O Lakes
Industry NewsLand O’Lakes To Acquire Ceres
June 20, 2016
Land O’ Lakes, Inc. and Ceres, Inc. have announced that they have signed a definitive merger agreement under which Land O’Lakes Read More
Food IT
Industry NewsCalifornia Event Will Mix Ag And Tech Professionals To …
June 20, 2016
Silicon Valley is hot on agriculture, and an upcoming event in California will bring together the food and tech industries Read More
LegislationVilsack Christens WinField Crop Adventure, Talks Monsan…
June 17, 2016
The WinField Crop Adventure grand opening ceremonies at Fair Oaks Farms (near Winemac, IN) welcomed USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Read More
Crop InputsFields of the Future: WinField Doubles Down with Agri-E…
June 16, 2016
Land O’Lakes, Inc., joined by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, today will host Fields of the Future, a live broadcast about Read More
Bayer sign
Crop InputsMonsanto Turns Back Bayer Again
June 14, 2016
Bayer AG’s bid to buy Monsanto Co. for more than $60 billion has hit an impasse that could pose a Read More
Young Corn Field
Crop NutritionNext Generation Of Nitrogen Efficiency Technology Conve…
June 13, 2016
Commodity price projections indicate farmers will continue to face tight margins again this year. Delivering higher yields and more bushels Read More
Industry NewsLa Crosse Seed Acquires Cover Crop Solutions Brand
June 10, 2016
La Crosse Seed announces that it is the new and exclusive owner of the entire family of brands of Cover Read More
ManagementTravel Plans and EU Rejection of Glyphosate, Biotech Cr…
June 9, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj talk about upcoming trips and the latest in the European Union’s moves against glyphosate Read More
Aspire with Boron
Crop InputsStudy: Aspire with Boron Ups Alfalfa Yields
June 8, 2016
Alfalfa growers are successfully improving yields through the cutting season by applying an important micronutrient. In a recent study, The Read More
Industry NewsAGCO Announces Tragic Death of Longtime Employee
June 8, 2016
It is with deepest regret that we announce the passing of our dear friend, colleague and customer advocate-in-chief Kevin W. Read More
Wheat Field North Dakota
Industry NewsBASF Inks Northern Seed for Clearfield Wheat R&D Li…
June 6, 2016
BASF has licensed Northern Seed LLC to perform research and development of BASF’s proprietary and patented Clearfield technology in wheat. Read More
ManagementBayer/Monsanto, EU/Glyphosate, Corn/Soybeans
June 2, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss the latest regarding industry mergers, the glyphosate debate in Europe, and an update Read More
Growers looking at soybeans
Industry NewsKoch Licenses 2 Marrone Products For North American Dis…
June 2, 2016
Koch Agronomic Services (Koch), with support from its affiliate, Koch Biological Solutions, has secured exclusive rights to sell REGALIA Rx Read More
Gypsum
Industry NewsBeneficial Reuse Management Launches GYPSOIL BLENDABLE
June 2, 2016
Beneficial Reuse Management (BRM) has introduced GYPSOIL BLENDABLE, a new high-quality pelleted gypsum fertilizer that supplies 17% sulfate sulfur and Read More
StewardshipAgrible Joins Field To Market To Pursue Sustainable Sou…
June 1, 2016
Agrible, Inc. has joined Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture as an associate member. As a leading multi-stakeholder Read More