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Farmers flock to value, fairly priced seed

The 1990s and early 2000s will be remembered as the era of consolidation and concentration within the seed industry. Large companies developing GMO traits scrambled to acquire seed companies to market those traits. It seemed like anything but the right time to start a seed company from scratch. That’s unless you were Chris Jeffries, a native Hoosier, and Dan Fox, a Buckeye who joined him in the venture.

The result is Seed Consultants Inc., Washington Courthouse, Ohio. The company recently celebrated its 20th year in business. In 2010 it sold 120,000 units of seed corn and 600,000 units of soybeans. Its territory is centered in Ohio and increasingly in Indiana, but the company sells seed in 15 states.

Key Points

• Hard work and the willingness to take risks pay off for two seedsmen.

• Seed Consultants Inc. proves a regional seed company concept still works.

• An allegiance to customers and dedication to offering value results in growth.

“We saw an opportunity,” Jeffries says. “We both had several years of experience at different levels in the seed industry, and we both understood how companies pick hybrids and market seed. Our goal was to offer customers a quality product at a fair price, and it’s still our goal today. We call it value.

“We like to say we sell low-priced seed, but not cheap seed,” Jeffries says. “It is quality seed; we just set out to operate on a lower margin.”

Early days

“Part of what makes it exciting is that we’re a first-generation seed company,” Fox says. “Both of us have done a little bit of everything to get here, and we have a passion for offering customers value.”

Their first price sheet in 1990 offered 13 hybrids. In reality, they sold mostly a couple of hybrids they knew would perform well. “You still only need five or six base hybrids that you know perform well,” Jeffries says. “Then you offer traits for those who want them.”

“We started out selling mostly 10 or 12 bags each to people who said they would try it out,” Fox recalls. “Either people felt sorry for us, or they wanted to give us a chance.”

“Most people said we wouldn’t last a year,” Jeffries remembers. “After that, we wouldn’t last two years, then three years. We’re still here.”

Flexibility pays

“We agreed we wouldn’t have hats or any of those frills,” Jeffries continues. Today they have hats and jackets. “As we saw a need for various things, we re-evaluated if we should do it,” he says.

That includes exhibiting at farm shows, primarily the Farm Science Review in Ohio. “Dan and I went one year as visitors and must have run into a hundred of our customers,” Jeffries says. “It dawned on us that if our customers were there, we ought to be there so they could talk to us instead of some other seed company.”

They recognized the value of in-field testing for a company like theirs early on. This past season they conducted replicated corn trials at 56 locations and soybean trials at 39 locations. Plus, they had 200 strip trials. They participate in major university testing programs, including Purdue University and Ohio State University trials.

“We started our testing by leasing a Massey Ferguson 35 plot combine, and building our own planter,” Jeffries recalls. “We planted five or six locations that first year. This year, we had more than 87,000 replicated test plots in the Corn Belt.”

Be opportunistic

Jeffries and Fox bought the acreage which is now home base from a seed company that had bought out Mark Seed Co. They revamped the buildings and added warehouse space.

Recently, they purchased a 145,000-square-foot warehouse on the cheap from a manufacturing company going out of business. While it required considerable investment to convert to a warehouse, they will use it as their principal seed warehouse as they grow.

Pioneer Hybrids contacted them recently. The result was an agreement to offer Proaccess Genetics, which are hybrids that come out of Pioneer’s breeding program. Pioneer entered similar agreements with Beck’s Hybrids, Atlanta, Ind., and Burrus Hybrids in Illinois. The Seed Consultant Pro access brand products will be called Supreme EX.

Through mutual agreements, most of the hybrid corn Seed Consultants Inc. sells is produced by Dull Homestead and Warner Seeds, two local family seed producers, both located in the Dayton, Ohio, area. Warner Seeds invested in state-of-the-art sorting and grading technology, including a color sorter, a few years ago. Its seed is produced under irrigation. Dull is updating its facilities now. Some seed is produced in Iowa and Michigan.

Seed Consultants Inc. was proud to celebrate its 20th anniversary by introducing its first proprietary hybrid from its own breeding program. It’s already sold out for 2011.

Hoosier native keeps striving for success

Chris Jeffries didn’t start out to build one of the larger regional seed companies in the U.S. Instead, he grew up near Williamsburg in Wayne County. He took ag classes and joined FFA at Northeastern High School. But perhaps some of his more memorable experiences in his teen years occurred milking cows for Quentin Williamson.

Now retired, Williamson worked in soil conservation at the same time, and became known as Mr. Soil Conservation in east-central Indiana. One son still runs the dairy today, while another teaches vo-ag with Don Sturgeon at Hagerstown High School.

Jeffries also taught vo-ag for three years. He took a program going nowhere and turned the Martinsville FFA into a contender in many state competitions in just three years.

“Then some older teachers convinced me there really wasn’t a future in teaching, so I joined a seed company,” he explains. “Of course, they went on teaching for years!”

However, his teaching experience introduced him to people whom he modeled his drive and determination after. “I student taught for the late Jan Wooten at Blue River Valley, and he was a man driven to be good at what he did,” Jeffries recalls.

Jeffries worked for O’s Gold Seed, operating from Washington Courthouse, Ohio, for 18 months, and then spent seven years with Dekalb-Pfizer Genetics. He was still working in the seed business in 1990 when he decided it was time to strike out on his own.

“Dan and I didn’t build this company to sell it,” Jeffries concludes. “We built it because we have a passion for the seed industry and enjoy serving customers.”


Serious business: Both Chris Jeffries and Dan Fox believe developing an extensive testing program for possible hybrids and varieties has helped them make better choices of products in their lineup.


Hoosier heritage: Chris Jeffries may call Ohio home today, but he got his start in Indiana. His son is a seed consultant for the company in Batesville, Ind.

This article published in the December, 2010 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.