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

Monsanto sign
Crop InputsCould a Monsanto-Bayer Union Be 2 Weeks from Fruition?
August 24, 2016
Via STLToday.com (The St. Louis Post-Dispatch): Merger talks between Monsanto Co. and Bayer AG are advancing after a series of Read More
Seed/BiotechMycogen Seeds Research Station Celebrates 30th Anniversary
August 9, 2016
The Mycogen Seeds research station in Mount Vernon, IN, is celebrating 30 years of corn hybrid innovation. To mark the Read More
Peanut field
Crop InputsVerdesian Introduces New Inoculant For Peanuts
July 28, 2016
As planning begins for the next growing season, Verdesian Life Sciences adds Primo Power CL, a new liquid inoculant, to Read More
Soil Young Corn
Crop InputsSmithsonian: 5 Things to Know About New GMO Labeling Bill
July 27, 2016
On July 14, the House of Representatives passed a bill requiring large food companies to label products containing genetically modified Read More
Trending Articles
ASMARK 2016 Retailers Live! Tour - CPS
CropLife 100CPS Acquires Texas Retail Operation
August 23, 2016
Crop Production Services (CPS) has acquired the assets of Larry’s Chemical and Spray, Inc., for an undisclosed amount in an Read More
Key Cooperative Marcus Construction Steel Building
Retail FacilitiesMarcus Construction Builds High-Speed Agronomy Center For Key Cooperative
July 7, 2016
Key Cooperative in Grinnell, IA, wanted a state-of-the-art Agronomy Center to better serve its customers. Marcus Construction delivered exactly that. Read More
Heritage Cooperative
Retail FacilitiesKahler Automation Designs State-Of-The-Art Facility For Heritage Cooperative
July 4, 2016
Heritage Cooperative in Marysville, OH, needed an efficient liquid, dry and grain facility to serve the many needs of their Read More
The Andersons Waterloo
ManagementFirst Indiana Facility Certified Under 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program
June 27, 2016
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced that The Andersons, Inc.’s Waterloo, IN, facility has been added to its Read More
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
Latest News
2016 ShowStopper | Case IH Patriot 4440 Sprayer
Equipment5 Show-stopping Products On Display At 2016 MAGIE
August 26, 2016
For 10 years now, visitors to the yearly Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE) show have been tasked with voting for Read More
Crop InputsDuPont Pioneer: Corn Belt P and K Levels Lagging
August 24, 2016
A new DuPont Pioneer study conducted across 12 Corn Belt states demonstrates that growers may be leaving profit potential in Read More
Monsanto sign
Crop InputsCould a Monsanto-Bayer Union Be 2 Weeks from Fruition?
August 24, 2016
Via STLToday.com (The St. Louis Post-Dispatch): Merger talks between Monsanto Co. and Bayer AG are advancing after a series of Read More
EquipmentCase IH Debuts Nutri-Tiller 955 Strip-Till Applicator
August 24, 2016
With strip-till continuing to expand across new acres, Case IH designed the new Nutri-Tiller 955 strip-till applicator to help producers Read More
EquipmentCase Launches Aim Command FLEX, 25th Anniversary Patrio…
August 24, 2016
Case IH announces new AIM Command FLEX advanced spray technology for greater application accuracy, as well as special 25th Anniversary Read More
ASMARK 2016 Retailers Live! Tour - CPS
CropLife 100CPS Acquires Texas Retail Operation
August 23, 2016
Crop Production Services (CPS) has acquired the assets of Larry’s Chemical and Spray, Inc., for an undisclosed amount in an Read More
PrecisionAg Video Conference
Precision AgVideo: PrecisionAg Vision Conference
August 22, 2016
A Strategic Conference Focused on the Future of Farm Digitization and Precision Agriculture Visit precisionagvision.com and register today! Read More
Young Corn Plants
Industry NewsOABA Welcomes Nicole Wallace As Communication & Adm…
August 22, 2016
The Ohio AgriBusiness Association has hired Nicole Wallace as its communication and administrative coordinator. Wallace will help provide comprehensive communication Read More
Syngenta Sign
Crop InputsChemChina, Syngenta Receive Clearance From CFIUS
August 22, 2016
China National Chemical Corp. (ChemChina) and Syngenta have announced that the companies have received clearance on their proposed transaction from the Read More
ManagementAg Industry Shows and Rumors
August 18, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj talk about the upcoming trade show schedule, crop protection merger updates, and content for Read More
MAGIE 2015
EquipmentMAGIE Takes The Pulse Of The Ag Retail Industry
August 18, 2016
Every year, one of the major highlights of my career as an ag journalist is attending the Midwest AG Industries Read More
MAGIE 2015 Overview
EquipmentPride In Professionalism On Display At MAGIE
August 18, 2016
The Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association (IFCA) is proud to partner with CropLife IRON and continue the tradition of bringing Read More
SprayersJenner Ag To Debut 25th Anniversary Edition Case IH Pat…
August 18, 2016
Visitors at the 2016 Midwest Ag Industries Exhibition (MAGIE) in Bloomington, IL, will have a unique photo opportunity, as Jenner Read More
Crop InputsEU Glyphosate Controversy Heating Up Yet Again
August 17, 2016
The battle over glyphosate rages on in Europe, creating a lot of question marks over whether the herbicide will continue Read More
Industry NewsNew Partnership Provides Improved Representation At Ohi…
August 16, 2016
The Ohio AgriBusiness Association (OABA) has retained Belinda Jones of Capitol Consulting Group, Inc. (CCG) for government relations work in Read More
Tissue testing
FertilizerMosaic: 6 Tips For Better Crop Nutrition In Corn
August 16, 2016
Late in the crop season is a good time to assess visual nutrient deficiencies and ensure early- and mid-season deficiencies Read More
WebinarsWebinar Schedule
August 14, 2016
Register for one of our upcoming Webinars or access our archive of past Webinars to view recordings of presentations that may be of interest to you. Read More
Dow DuPont
Crop InputsDowDuPont Update: EU Takes Closer Look at Merger
August 12, 2016
Dow Chemical Co. and DuPont Co. face months of haggling with European Union antitrust regulators who opened an in-depth probe Read More