Farm Progress

For one Knox County family, selling seed offered one way to bring their son and his family home to the farming operation.

Curt Arens, Editor, Nebraska Farmer

March 6, 2017

3 Min Read
ALL IN THE FAMILY: Selling seed and serving seed customers is a family enterprise for Mike Jackson (left) and son Rob. Over the past 23 years, selling seed has changed for the Jacksons. "Now, the day you plant that crop is the day you decide what your goals are for the year," Mike says.

The Jackson family, including Mike and wife Barb, has been involved in the seed business in eastern Knox County for a long time. Mike's father, Dwayne, sold Golden Harvest seed in the 1970s. After Mike took on the Pioneer dealership, Dwayne retired from the seed business. Mike and Barb's son, Rob, and his wife, Linda, moved home and joined the farm in 2009.

The seed business offered another way for the family to bring them into the farming operation. With a background in business, Rob now helps their seed customers develop variable-rate seeding prescriptions and assists them with variable-rate fertility and overall pest management strategies.

A lot has changed in farming and in the seed business since Mike began with Pioneer in 1994. "This was before Bt corn and GMO seed, so the biggest concern for farmers buying seed then was seed size," Mike says. "At that time, recordkeeping for the seed business was still mostly paper, so we bought our first computer when we began selling seed."

With the arrival of GMO seed on the market around 1996, the price of a bag of corn seed rose above $100 for the first time, Mike recalls. Then, the price took another jump with the commercial availability of glyphosate-resistant seed traits in both soybeans and corn. Now, most of the seed isn't sold in bags, but is delivered in huge bulk containers.

Adding family to operation
When Rob joined the operation, the family added a seed-treatment processing system, so they could treat soybean seed for their customers. They built a new seed storage shed and purchased a forklift to replace the old tractor-mounted fork Mike had used previously.

At the time when Rob joined his parents' operation, the expanding seed business was one of the ways they were able to add another family to the same operation without greatly expanding the number of acres they farmed themselves. However, there are challenges in the business, too.

"When we should be out planting our own crops, we need to be making deliveries to our own customers to help them get their planting done," Mike says. "One of the hardest things I've ever had to do is to sell seed to my friends and neighbors," he explains. "And through the growing season, I don't just worry about our own planted acres, but I worry about everyone else's farm too because our product is out there on those acres," he explains.

For Mike and Rob, farming themselves while selling seed gives them a unique perspective on what it takes to get a good crop. "Corn yields have more than doubled since I started," Mike says. "Back then, we were lucky to get 80 to 90 bushels per acre. Soybean yields have gone up too." Now in his 15th season of no-tilling, he has seen the benefits of soil conservation and improved seed genetics on soil health and yield.

"Now, the day you plant that crop is the day you decide what your goals are for the year," Mike explains. "There is so much in the development of the seed; you decide what pests, insects and diseases you are worried about by the varieties you choose. The potential is all still there on the day you plant."

Rob says that the technology will keep growing in importance. "When we are establishing variable-rate seed prescriptions for a customer's field, we look at the soil and yield maps together," he says. "Now, we are looking at purchasing a drone to help us get aerial images of our customers' fields in season so we can identify any problems early on."

With the new technology that is part of farming and the seed business, training is a key to success. "Much of our seed training sessions each year focus on the service side of things," Rob says. "We are always training on the new technology and how it can help our customers." Because customer service is such an important part of the business, dealers must also be able to communicate effectively with customers and help them problem-solve, too, Rob says.



About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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