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

Young Corn Plants
Seed/BiotechMycogen Seeds Offers Novel Product to Battle Pythium, Other Pathogens
August 10, 2017
After a season plagued by seedling diseases caused by cool, wet soils at planting, farmers have a new option to Read More
Natives-First-Purple_Prairie_Clover
Seed/BiotechLa Crosse Seed Continues Focus on Soil and Water Conservation
August 9, 2017
La Crosse Seed is doing its part to lead communication to ag retailers across the country on the importance of Read More
Treated-Seed-in-planter
Seed/BiotechSeed Treatment Q&A: Insight from Iowa State’s Alison Robertson
August 8, 2017
Technology has changed drastically since the 1990s. Televisions are thinner, phones are smaller and tractors can steer themselves. Technology has Read More
soybeans
Seed/BiotechWhen and Why to Double Inoculate Your Soybeans
August 8, 2017
Double inoculation is the act of using a double application of a rhizobial inoculant. This quickly establishes high populations of Read More
Trending Articles
Iowa waterways
Stewardship2,600 Iowa Farmers Commit $8.7 Million to Water Quality Practices
August 9, 2017
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey announced Tuesday that a record number of Iowa farmers signed up to install nutrient Read More
Greg Musson, Gar Tootelian
CropLife 100Cause of Gar Tootelian Fire Under Investigation
August 7, 2017
Over one hundred firefighters and equipment responded to a four-alarm shop fire at the Gar Tootelian, Inc. (GAR) facility in Read More
Rob Versprille
ManagementCeres Solutions, North Central Co-op Merger to Bring New Opportunities for Indiana, Michigan Farmers
August 1, 2017
More than 40,000 customers and almost 9,000 Indiana and Michigan farmers will begin doing business with the new Ceres Solutions Read More
CPS-Norwood-and-Dupont-reps
Eric SfiligojA Message to Ag Retailers: Do Tell Your Good Stories
July 26, 2017
As the daughter of a peanut farmer, Krysta Harden, Chief Sustainability Officer for DuPont Crop Protection, understands the importance ag Read More
Tim Hassinger Dow AgroSciences President and CEO
Crop InputsDow’s Tim Hassinger Named President, CEO of Lindsay Corp.
July 24, 2017
Lindsay Corp. has  announced the appointment of Timothy Hassinger as president and CEO and a member of its board of Read More
Stewardship‘Gonna Fly Now’ with Environmental Respect
July 20, 2017
One of the most memorable moments in movie history occurred in the Academy Award-winning 1976 film “Rocky.” Haven gotten his Read More
Latest News
Greg Musson, Gar Tootelian
CropLife 100Gar Tootelian Foundation Donates Half Million Dollars t…
August 16, 2017
Students at Immanuel Elementary are looking forward to the first day of school for two reasons this year. One, they Read More
Water Drainage
StewardshipNew System Could Remove Two Water Pollutants from Ag Fi…
August 14, 2017
Algae blooms in the Gulf of Mexico use up the majority of the oxygen in the water, leading to massive Read More
Eric SfiligojThe Top 10 Crop Protection Companies, Post-Mega Mergers
August 14, 2017
Everyone loves a good Top 10 list. In fact, some prominent celebrities such as David Letterman spent much of their Read More
ManagementThe DuPont-Granular Deal, Dicamba Update, and Upcoming …
August 11, 2017
Matthew Grassi joins Paul Schrimpf for the second week in a row to talk about DuPont’s acquisition of Granular, as Read More
Soybeans weeds
HerbicidesOngoing Evaluation Key to Controlling Weeds, Improving …
August 10, 2017
As the sun bears down on record U.S. soybean acres this August, farmers keep their eyes on their fields to Read More
Young Corn Plants
Seed/BiotechMycogen Seeds Offers Novel Product to Battle Pythium, O…
August 10, 2017
After a season plagued by seedling diseases caused by cool, wet soils at planting, farmers have a new option to Read More
Corn Field
FertilizerProtect Applied Manure Straight From the Manure Pit to …
August 10, 2017
Farmers who use liquid manure to fertilize corn crops can now mix Instinct nitrogen stabilizer in their pit for easy Read More
Iowa waterways
Stewardship2,600 Iowa Farmers Commit $8.7 Million to Water Quality…
August 9, 2017
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey announced Tuesday that a record number of Iowa farmers signed up to install nutrient Read More
Natives-First-Purple_Prairie_Clover
Seed/BiotechLa Crosse Seed Continues Focus on Soil and Water Conser…
August 9, 2017
La Crosse Seed is doing its part to lead communication to ag retailers across the country on the importance of Read More
HerbicidesAg Secretary Perdue Comments on Dicamba Issue
August 9, 2017
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue indicated to reporters this week that he would like to see the industry work out a Read More
Treated-Seed-in-planter
Seed/BiotechSeed Treatment Q&A: Insight from Iowa State’s…
August 8, 2017
Technology has changed drastically since the 1990s. Televisions are thinner, phones are smaller and tractors can steer themselves. Technology has Read More
soybeans
Seed/BiotechWhen and Why to Double Inoculate Your Soybeans
August 8, 2017
Double inoculation is the act of using a double application of a rhizobial inoculant. This quickly establishes high populations of Read More
Corn Field
Crop InputsMonsanto, Valent Expand Partnership in Roundup Ready PL…
August 7, 2017
Monsanto Co. and Valent U.S.A. LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sumitomo Chemical Co., Ltd., have announced today expanded partnership in Read More
Greg Musson, Gar Tootelian
CropLife 100Cause of Gar Tootelian Fire Under Investigation
August 7, 2017
Over one hundred firefighters and equipment responded to a four-alarm shop fire at the Gar Tootelian, Inc. (GAR) facility in Read More
Soybean Field
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Licenses Enlist Events
August 7, 2017
Syngenta has entered into non-exclusive licensing agreements with Dow AgroSciences LLC and M.S. Technologies, L.L.C. for the Enlist E3 Event Read More
ManagementThe News From InfoAg, and Dicamba Woes Continue
August 3, 2017
CropLife Editors Paul Schrimpf and Matthew Grassi discuss trends and topics that emerged at last week’s InfoAg Conference in St. Read More
FrontEntrancetoIntivityCentet
EquipmentAGCO Intivity Center Marks Five-Year Anniversary
August 3, 2017
Intivity Center, the official visitor center for AGCO Corp. in North America, commemorates five years of operation this summer. Opened Read More
Crop InputsMonsanto’s Fraley Addresses Dicamba Situation in …
August 3, 2017
Monsanto Chief Technology Officer Robb Fraley — a man who has seemingly been at the center of Monsanto’s PR campaign Read More