First a Seedsman
Merschman Seeds was founded in 1954 by my father, Bill, and my mother, Bernice, on my great-grandfather’s farm just north of West Point, Iowa. It started off small – it only began by growing 20 acres of certified oats. We didn’t start growing soybeans until 1956, and we sold our first seed in 1957, after my parents sold the farm to build a seed facility in the southwest corner of West Point.
Over the years, the company has changed. We used to be a small, local sector, but we’ve become more regional now. We sell mainly in Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska and touch Kansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas. My parents have passed the torch, and there are five children with equal shares in Merschman — I have two older sisters and two younger brothers. Currently, I have a brother, brother-in-law, son, and two nephews with their hand in the business, and my parents love it so much, that at 90 years old, they do what they can for Merschman Seeds.
We’ve been through a lot in the company. We were around when there were certified seeds, private breeders, and we’ve witnessed the turn into biotech. One thing that hasn’t changed is our dedication as seedsmen.
Independent seed companies consider themselves “Seedsmen” first. A seedsman’s first priority is the seed – he’s there to produce the perfect seed. He enjoys seeing the farmer’s success above anything else.
When a farmer comes to Merschman with a problem, we’re able to ask, “What’s keeping you up at night?” and find a solution that caters to our grower. Whether it’s white mold, sudden death, or another disease, being an independent allows us to cater specifically to our customers. For us, our company name is our family name. We want our products to perform well.
There are a lot of different companies, selling a lot of different varieties. At Merschmen Seeds, we find varieties by questioning our customers. By asking about the issues they’re facing on the farm, we’re able to provide products that can solve the problem. Sometimes a select product can be better than a national. It’s more local, and there’s no shortage of seed.
I’ve met plenty of other independents through Independent Professional Seed Association (IPSA). One thing I’ve noticed is that seed people are just good folks. No one complains about their customers or counts the days until retirement. Everyone comes to work with a positive
attitude, and they gather to talk about the next crop or the next idea to produce high quality seed. It’s hard to describe the IPSA atmosphere. Even though we are competitors, it never seems like that. We can gather in one place to discuss the nightmares keeping us up at night, and more often than not, those same problems are bothering another company as well.
One of the relationships Merschman’s has developed is a personal and business connection with Harry Stine and Stine Seeds. It’s sometimes difficult for others to understand our relationship, but my father has been friends with Harry Stine for 50 years. I think Stine’s a genius when it comes to seed – he understands how to run his business in a successful and cost-effective manner. We have developed a unique connection that surpasses a business partnership. We often go on an annual fishing trip to talk about business and the ideas for the upcoming year. Our connection is now one of friendship and trust, and we decided to come together in 2004 with the creation MS Technologies for the benefit of our companies and, more importantly, farmers.
I always like to tell growers to buy from an independent seedsman. They’re passionate about what they do, they care about their customers, and they’re more aligned with the farmer than anyone I know. Independent seed companies are able to see their customers as more than just a business relationship; customers are a friendship, too. That’s what makes it fun to come to work.
With all the mergers and changes happening in the seed industry, I think the seedsman will prevail. At the end of the day, the seedsman only answers to the customer. Business, while business, is still a relationship of trust between a seedsman and his customer.