Year-Long Commitment

Not unlike the commitment it takes to be truly successful in selling seed, we’ve made a commitment to cover the topic of “Seed and the Retailer” throughout the year. And in preparing for future stories we’ll be publishing, I’ve been talking to a lot of really smart people about the seed business, and how they are managing to build their businesses with growers by adding seed to the list of services they provide.

One of these smart people is Roy Berrey, who manages the seed division of Pearl City Elevator in northern Illinois. When I talked to him last month, his mind was already thinking about the 2009 seed selling season.

“We talk to growers all season long,” says Berrey. “There’s almost never a time when we don’t learn something from a conversation we have with a grower.”

With planting wrapping up, the talk turns to agronomic practices and the rising prices of inputs. Growers are willing to do more to get higher yields, he says. With the price of everything rising so fast, $5 corn might not be enough to pay the bills if yield doesn’t reach full potential.

That’s one of the biggest positives about seed — conversation. When you’re the guy behind the seed placement, you have a place on the grower-customer’s farm all season long, not just when the weeds and bugs come.

Talk also revolves around the test plots that Berrey and his team have helped set up with growers. Each season, based on the grower’s needs, they select and test hybrids and varieties in side-by-side trials to allow growers to see for themselves how they perform under the growers’ agronomic regimen.

Simultaneously, Pearl City maintains its own test plots that trial different agronomic practices for new hybrids and varieties. Growers are invited to come out and view the test plots themselves at coordinated field days, or — in some cases — private tours for top customers. More conversations, and more potential business opportunities. This year’s hot topics were seed treatments for soybeans and soybean planting depth — Berrey says that research is showing that consistent seed depth in beans, resulting in a more even stand — is revealing itself to be an important factor in yield.

When harvest time comes around, there’s more conversations about the plots, the yield monitor data, and locking in early orders, especially when it comes to traits. High demand for trait technology and best performing varieties means that locking in early is more important than ever, something else to talk to growers about.

That’s really the best part, and the worst part about the seed business. The highly successful retailers selling seed need to be speaking with growers literally all year long, and that means a serious time commitment. On the other hand, the only way to increase the business you do with your growers is by talking to them.

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