Wilken Seeds isn't exactly a household name. It wasn't even a household name in parts of Illinois. Bit those in the vicinity the small seed company served were apparently loyal to the brand.
Started by Lloyd Wilken in 1952, a long-time employee, Gene Swartz purchased the business in 1986. He and his family, including son Doug and Doug's daughter, Heather Machroli, play key roles in operating the business. The family made the difficult decision to exit the seed business in January.
That was before Beck's Hybrids expressed an interest in the firm. Beck's based in Atlanta, Ind., is a family –owned business as well, continued by Sonny Beck and his son, Scott and other family members. Beck's Hybrids is one of the largest regional, independent see companies in the U.S. Traditionally, they've served Indiana, Western Ohio, Kentucky, southern Michigan and eastern Illinois.
Sources say they're making a full-blown effort to extend their coverage across Illinois, to take in western Illinois. Wilken Seeds was strongest in central and northern Illinois. They marketed soybeans, wheat, oats, corn, alfalfa and other forages.
One year ago Beck's Hybrids worked a deal with Brown Seed Company, a strong name in the southern one-third of Illinois. Beck's now uses modern processing facilities at Brown's Seeds to process and distribute seed for that portion of Illinois.
Plans in acquiring Wilken Seeds, Pontiac, Ill., include Wilken Seeds now offering their customers Beck's Hybrids products. Customers who bought Wilken's Seed products for 2010 before Feb 8 can either take delivery of that seed, or choose products from Beck's line-up instead. Customers purchasing from Wilken Seeds today will choose from products in the Beck's line-up. The WIlken Seed brand will be discontinued.
Doug and his daughter will become Beck employees. Local farmers who grew soybeans for Wilken Seeds for seed will have an opportunity to raise soybean seed for Beck's Hybrids, according to the terms of the agreement both parties entered into. Seed grown locally under that arrangement will be cleaned and packaged in the Wilken Seed facilities, sources say. Those facilities, however, will now be owned by Beck's Hybrids.
This is just the latest in a series of moves by various leading players in the seed industry to put themselves in a stronger position in their key market areas. Although Beck's Hybrids only covers a few states, recent tabulations by marketing survey firms rate Beck's Hybrids as the sixth-largest seed company in the United States.