Carl Peterson, president of Peterson Farms Seed, shares how his passion for farming led him to the seed industry.
Seed World: Favorite book?
Carl Peterson: Tough question — probably the best answer is “the one I am reading right now!” I have been a voracious reader my entire life. On a business level I think it is hard to top “Start With Why” by Simon Sinek. He really captures the essence of what people are looking for in a brand or company — both as a customer and as a team member.
SW: If you could learn a new skill, what would you want to learn?
CP: I would love to be able to play the cello. To me it is the most expressive instrument. I am an amateur musician and I can do a reasonably good cello on my keyboards, but it just isn’t the real thing.
SW: What’s it like working day-to-day with your wife?
CP: It is about 97 percent awesome… and 3 percent pure hell. (I am told that her answer is the same, but her percentages are different). Julie brings so much to the business. She is strong where I am weak — we complement each other very well. She is the one who always does whatever it takes and just makes it happen!
SW: How did your passion for farming turn into a seed business?
CP: In the early 90’s, we were definitely looking for another profit center outside of straight-up commodity farming, we never had any strategic vision to start a seed company. In 1993, our region’s spring wheat crop was devastated by scab and much of the crop was deemed unsaleable. We learned that a gravity table could separate that into high quality and feed wheat so we bought and installed an Oliver 240 and cleaned wheat 24/7 all winter. That led us to start conditioning seed, and one thing lead to another. I remember lying in bed one morning and having the realization that “I am a seed salesman — how did that happen!”
SW: What advice would you give to a farmer struggling to meet their yield goal?
CP: I think we are at a point in the economic cycle where many farmers are tempted to make cost cutting decisions that can seriously damage to their economic health. A 5 bushel yield increase in corn equals about $37.50/acre. On our farm, we have had great results with more active nitrogen management, precision ag tools and more active management. Even though we are spending more per acre, those tools are helping us drive our cost per bushel lower.
SW: If you could fix any problem in the ag sector, what would you want to fix?
CP: It frustrates me greatly how the seed industry mishandles yield data. Meaningless single location strip plots are tossed around as sales tools. No responsible seed company would ever make product selections based on a handful of strip trials or a couple of first trials and yet, as an industry, this is what we lay in front of our customers to “prove” the value of our products. It is no wonder few farmers put much credence in seed company yield data. In the longer term, that is not in the best interests of either farmers or the seed industry.