Dahlco Seeds Inc., was the recipient of the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association’s highest honor, the Achievement in Crop Improvement Award, at the association’s 117th annual meeting Jan. 8 in Fergus Falls.
Three brothers — Kevin, Duane and Craig Dahlman — are the third generation to produce certified seed. Dahlco also operates an MCIA-approved seed conditioning facility.
The family business was started by their grandparents, Albin and Frieda Dahlman, in 1922, south of Dassel. The brothers’ parents, Stanley and Hazel, bought their current farm site near Cokato in 1951 and moved the seed business there — relocating the seed house and dryer. They also milked cows until 1969, deciding to sell the herd at the time as their family labor force of nine children began heading off to college. It was also then that they decided to focus on the seed business, according to Kevin.
All three brothers are equal partners in their family seed business, which raises corn and soybeans for seed and field corn. Kevin returned home to farm in 1978, followed by Duane in 1982 and Craig in 1985. By the end of the 1980s, their parents were ready for retirement.
The Dahlman brothers continue to focus on providing high-quality seed for Upper Midwest farmers.
“Our philosophy hasn’t changed over the years,” Duane says. “We still go back and usually three times a day, open up a bag of seed and ask ourselves, ‘Does it look good?’ A farmer does that [when he gets seed] and it sets the tone for the whole year. We put a lot into that.”
Their business continues to evolve to provide top-notch products and a safe, efficient working environment for employees. In 2009, the Dahlmans sold their retail business to AgReliant Genetics in Indiana and became an exclusive wholesale business. And in 2019, they entered a business partnership with Western Integrated Seeds, based in Hooper, Neb., so they could offer full-season corn varieties to their customers.
“They are identical to us,” Duane says. “They raise late material — 105- to 120-day — and we raised 80- to 105-day, early material.”
Kevin notes, too, the impact of biotechnology and biological controls on seed production, and how Dahlco stays current. For example, they have a RIB (refuge-in-a-bag) blender that allows them to fill 80,000-kernel bags with alternately-metered traited and non-traited seed.
Another machine allows them to apply seed treatments in milligrams, such as .25 mg of insecticide per seed. They also can apply micronutrients to enhance seed root growth. One customer has had them apply zinc.
And another machine — a color sorter — sorts corn seed one kernel at a time, which helps identify hybrid and quality.
Dahlco’s employee roster fluctuates depending on the time of year. The company employs around 16 full-time workers and hires part-time when needed. Worker safety is a top consideration throughout the seed cleaning, conditioning and treatment processes. To protect inside air quality, for example, Dahlco installed red and white dust handling systems.
On the seed production side, Kevin says that Dahlco was one of two U.S. seed companies that started in 2018 to work with Bayer-Monsanto to test a Round-Up hybridization system. The two-year program involved spraying selected corn hybrids in seed-producing fields at specific stages of growth to sterilize them in the first year, then growing them for seed production during the second season. Producing seed this way eliminates the need for de-tasseling.
“The technology was successful,” Kevin says. “We hope it expands.
MCIA also honored three individuals with its premier seedsman awards. Receiving 2020 Premier Seedsman Awards were Darius Thiel, owner and operator of Thiel Seed Service, Wendell, and Mike Zabel of Zabel Seeds, Plainview.
Paula MohrPREMIER SEEDSMAN: Receiving the MCIA 2020 Premier Seedsman award was Darius Thiel, shown with his wife, Terri.
Thiel is the third generation to farm and operate the family’s seed conditioning facility in Grant County. One of his first jobs in the business was to help print tags by hand-cranking a manual tag printer and securing the tags to burlap bags with metal clips. He also walked fields to pull wild mustard.
Today, he produces wheat and soybean seed with the help of his wife, Terr,i and two employees. Thiel also serves, as his dad did, on the MCIA board of directors.
Zabel, another third-generation seed producer, also grew up with helping do seed-related chores, such as tagging bags, roguing grain fields and riding the homemade bean buggy to apply the new herbicide called Round-Up.
Paula MohrHONORED INDIVIDUAL: Receiving the MCIA 2020 Premier Seedsman award was Mike Zabel, shown with his wife, Kim.
Today, Zabel does seed conditioning, maintenance, seed sales, record keeping, and with the help of his father, crop production. He handles primarily soybean, oat and barley seed. However, in 2017, Zabel was one of two growers in Minnesota who produced hemp seed.
MCIA honored Paula Mohr, editor of The Farmer, with its 2020 Honorary Premier Seedsman Award for her service in providing media coverage of agriculture in Minnesota.
Mohr has served as editor of The Farmer since 2004. Her 35+ year career in journalism includes reporting, editing and photography for Farm Journal’s former Dairy Today magazine and the Cadillac News in Cadillac, Mich.
MCIAHONORARY PREMIER SEEDSMAN: Receiving the MCIA 2020 Honorary Premier Seedsman award was Paula Mohr, editor of The Farmer.
Mohr grew up in the Thumb area of Michigan on a dairy farm and received her agricultural communications degree at Michigan State University.
She enjoys traveling around the state, gathering stories and photos that she hopes the reader will enjoy and learn from, or may help in some way.