Jeff Champion has been around farmers practically all his life. His grandfather farmed a small operation in Tippo, Miss., just outside of Charleston. “He had 200 acres of row crops, a few hogs, and chickens,” remembers Champion. “My father, who was known as Bill by a majority of his farm chemical business customers, grew up farming, and I spent my fair share of time there, too.”
Bill Champion was a running back in high school. After being offered a scholarship to Ole Miss, he hitchhiked to Oxford and played tight end for coach Johnny Vaught. “He played for Coach Vaught from 1959 until 1963,” says Jeff Champion. “The four years he was there, the Rebels lost only four games, won two National Championships, and a Cotton Bowl.”
After his success at Ole Miss, Bill Champion started working for Helena Chemical in 1972. By 1976, he was in sales for Rusty Griffin, Griffin Ag Products, and was the first chemical representative to cover territory west of the Mississippi River. “Dad was also the first person to introduce a generic flowable atrazine to farmers in the Midwest,” says Champion.
Around that time, many registered crop protection products were coming off patent, and the generic chemical business started booming. Bill Champion eventually became Griffin’s director of sales. By the time Griffin Ag Products was purchased by Dupont Ag, Bill Champion had 30 years of service under his belt and chose to retire. “Dad played a big role in establishing that huge Midwest territory for Mr. Griffin,” says Champion.
Chemical Business and Change
The Champions are deeply rooted in the farm chemical business. Jeff started learning about the business when his father would take him to grower meetings he organized to showcase products.
Jeff Champion sold products for American Cyanamid in the Midwest from 1988 to 1992, but then moved to Cleveland, Miss., to cover the southern portion of the state for Agrevo prior to their purchase by Bayer Crop Sciences. “Bayer kept the Agrevo name, and I stayed with them until 1996, when I started working for the generic chemical company, Sipcam Agro USA,” adds Champion.
Today, Champion Chemical Company is Jeff’s two-year old retail business. He also owns a registration-holding company called Champion Crop Care, and has distributor customers across the country who carry his brand name products. He competes against much bigger companies like Sanders, Helena, and CPS, but is the only independent dealer in his area selling ag chemicals and seed.
He has seen the many changes that impacted the chemical business through the years, and remembers how Roundup and Roundup Ready crops stifled sales of other chemicals. Now, farmers are beginning to return to those older chemistries to help them gain control of resistant weeds.
“I know varieties containing traits have reduced agriculture’s environmental impact, but now researchers, consultants, and growers are understanding the need to rotate crops and chemistries to maintain the longevity of those GMO varieties,” says Champion. “Now with Bollgard 3 commercialized, growers will utilize other products to manage what Bollgard 3 won’t control, but those chemistries must be used with good stewardship.”
Family of Athletes
When Jeff graduated from Grenada’s Kirk Academy in 1982, he pitched for Delta State University when legendary Dave “Boo” Ferriss was the coach. “I played for Coach Ferriss from 1983 to 1987. We won the Gulf South Conference in 1985, and placed third in the Division 2 World Series that year,” says Champion. “I’m still very proud to have finished my first season pitching 8-0, which tied the record for best start by a freshman.”
Delta State’s director of radio and television services at that time was Jeff’s good friend Tommy Crosby, who lettered on Delta State golf team. “I probably watched every home game Jeff pitched,” remembers Crosby. “He was the winning pitcher when Coach Ferriss got his 500th career victory.”
Jeff Champion’s little sister, Amy, attended Delta State from 1988 to 1992 and played basketball for coach Lloyd Clark, the winningest coach in Lady Statesmen basketball history. They won back-to-back national championships. “Our family has always excelled in athletics,” says Champion with a humble smile.
When asked where he thinks the ag chemistry business will be in another decade, Champion’s response was optimistic for U.S. agriculture and his business. “I think farming operations will experience tempered growth. Ag conglomerates are concentrating on seeds and traits because that’s how they will gain market share,” says Champion. “Now that their chemical research and development efforts have seemed to slow down a bit, it will hopefully open up doors for businesses like mine.”
Champion is just hoping his business forecast is as accurate as the sizzling fastballs he threw in college.