If you have ever flown over, driven through, or maybe even bicycled across the Midwest, you might have noticed the acres upon acres of crops that are planted in precise ways. Those crops are made up of hundreds of thousands of rows and those rows are made up of millions of individual plants. Now stay with me for just a little bit longer. Those millions of plants start off as seeds, purchased by farmers from … a seed salesman.
To get a better idea of what a seed salesman does, I reached out to someone who helps us order our seed, Mark Pogee of Rob-See-Co, a hybrid corn and soybean seed company in the western Corn Belt states. Rob-See-Co is an independent company built on simplicity, relationships, and technology.
Mark, who attended Iowa State University, says, “My whole life has revolved around agriculture.”
Previously, Mark managed a cooperative for nearly 13 years, was a regional sales manager for another seven years, and most recently he works for Rob-See-Co. Each of these positions have given Mark the opportunity to do what he loves best, to be curious. Each part of Mark’s day involves seeing and doing new things. Each day he makes sales calls (10-15 per day), meets new people, and arranges the delivery of seed. Through his job he also sets up seed plots, builds customer relationships, and works to find farmer/dealers who could store the seed until the planting conditions are just right in the fall.
He likes all of those different aspects of his job and loves having an office that is based in his truck. He covers a 20-county area, and his travels can add up to a lot of miles. In fact, Mark was on his way back from the Missouri border when he took a break to call me and go over some notes he had jotted down to help describe his job. When out on the road, Mark also gets to support local business by eating at a different restaurant daily.
Mark works with farmers and knows they have long hours before light and even sometimes after dark. Not everyone has times for a sales call, but Mark is tenacious. He keeps trying, catching his customers at good times – and stepping away to try again if the time is not right.
Being a good salesman requires knowing a lot about the product you are selling. Corn seed is categorized by different hybrids and soybean seeds are categorized by different varieties. Depending on the type of soil you have, the weather conditions that spring, the type of crop you planted last year, and even how many long days you will have in your growing season determine which hybrid of corn or variety of soybean you might purchase. Farmers often plant different hybrids and varieties on different parts of the same field to match the conditions of the soil. There are a lot of variables to consider. The technology of seed development gives farmers many options to choose from and many options for seed dealers to offer. Check out Farming by Numbers for more information on seeds.
Why should a farmer work with a seed dealer? Every year, Iowa farmers plant over 30 million acres of crops. And while that is a huge number of acres, each farm is only on average 345 acres. Individual farmers can get a better deal working with seed companies and dealers who negotiate for large-scale purchases.
In Iowa, seed is planted in the spring, but the summer is still a busy time. Farmers and seed dealers together look at fields, check on the progress of the plants, and try to troubleshoot for the next year. After a windstorm or other weather event, a field may look ugly. But crops are amazing at coming back. In the worst case scenario, farmers will need to replant. Mark says if the farmer has to replant it is a heart-wrenching decision. It’s never a good situation because they will have lost all of that time and money and the yields will have been greatly diminished. The cost of replanting can be high. A bag of soybean seed averages $52 and will cover one acre. Corn is more expensive at $285 a bag, but each bag covers approximately 2½ acres. The cost of a bag of seed accounts for the delivery, trucking, fuel, human resource costs, and the research that helped develop each kernel of corn or soybean seed.
Fall is also a busy time for a seed salesman. A seed salesman will join a farmer in their “office” (combine while harvesting) and spend time taking out the fields. Riding along during the harvest helps Mark to get an idea of how well the specific variety of seed did. It also provides Mark an opportunity to visit with the farmer about what next year’s planting needs may be. Seed companies must anticipate a year in advance what the farmer will need. Mark’s most important job is helping the farmer with decisions about what to plant. Most of his farming solutions are the result of years of experience and knowledge of the farms – and farmers- whom he is working with. He provides tried and tested seed choices to help give the crops the best possible start.
“Every year, you start over, and everyone is a new customer,” says Mark. “You can’t just assume because someone purchased seed from you in the past that they will again.”
One of a farmer’s most important decisions is what to plant. Seed dealers, like Mark, can help the farmer with those decisions – if they come at a good time.