On this trip to Brazil, what impressed you the most?
Brian: The high cost of soybean production, poor roads, and low-fertility soils. The impact of the currency exchange rate on the Brazilian farmer is dramatic since so many of the crops are exported. Also, the small and old equipment being used to farm big fields was surprising.
Darren: The one word that describes Brazil to me is “immense.” There is a tremendous amount of acres that could be brought into production. In the state of Mato Grosso alone, there are an estimated 50 million acres of pasture. Fifty million acres! The other thing that stood out to me was energy conservation. A good example of that was the motion-sensitive lights in the hotels.
What do you think American producers can learn from their Brazilian counterparts?
Darren: For me, the big thing is to appreciate what you have. There’s no place in the world I’d rather be than right here in the Upper Midwest.
Brian: Once you’ve been to Brazil, you won’t complain about the roads, cell phone service, or just about anything that we have here in the U.S. because it’s so superior to what they have in Brazil.
Darren: Agronomically speaking, we are the world leader in much of the farming technology. Countries like Brazil are looking to us to help them improve their agronomic practices.
What do you see are some of the biggest challenges to American agriculture from foreign competition?
Brian: Cheap labor, cheap land cost and, politically, many other countries would prefer to buy from a country other than the U.S.
Darren: The ability for other countries to produce crops year-round gives them a marketing advantage at certain times of the year. Also, other climates may be more condusive to growing certain crops compared to here in the U.S.
After your trips abroad, what do you see that sets the American producer apart from our world competition?
Darren: One of the biggest things you notice traveling around the world is the fantastic job American farmers do protecting the environment compared to what happens in other countries. In terms of erosion control, the safety of pesticides, and the list goes on and on, it’s just a much better situation here.
Brian: You add to that our inherent advantages in transportation, finance, soil fertility and communication. It’s going to be generations before the rest of the world can truly compete on a level playing field.
Darren: Brian reminded me that the average person in Ukraine makes about $1,000 per year.
Is there anything you will change on your farm after your trips to Brazil and the Ukraine?
Brian: I’m going to start paying a lot more attention to currency exchange rates than I ever have before. It’s going to give me a lot better feel for how other farmers around the world can compete against U.S. crops.
Darren: For me, the thing I come home scratching my head about is grain marketing and fertilizer planning. If other countries begin using more fertilizer, the price almost certainly will be going up. On the marketing side, as crop prices rise, more acres in Brazil and other countries will convert to raising high-priced crops, so I’m more inclined to take advantage of marketing opportunities for 2008 through 2010 crops while the prices are high.
What are some of your goals for Hefty Seed in the next three years? 10 years?
Brian: My goals for the short and long term are exactly the same. Keep our costs down. Increase our sales so we can offer even better pricing for farmers. Most importantly, we will continue to provide even more education to farmers so they can not only get a lower price for inputs, but they can continue to increase yields as well.
How did Hefty Seed Company originate?
Our mom’s parents were selling the home farm near Baltic, South Dakota, so mom and dad bought it and moved up from north-central Iowa in 1969. The problem was, few of the herbicides dad was using back home were available here, so he started the company to fill his own farm’s needs and those of some other local farms that year.
How do you think your company brings value to your customers?
We focus on education first and foremost. It’s not only important for us to offer a good price, we want to do what we can to help our customers use our products correctly and make more money on their farms.
What sets Hefty Seed apart from its competitors?
Our farm is a big advantage for us. We operate our farm as a huge test farm trying out the new products, programs and farming methods so we have firsthand knowledge to share with our customers.
As far as how we operate Hefty Seed Company, our strategy is simple and straightforward. We keep our overhead low, we work on efficiencies at all levels, we are detail oriented, and we work hard every day. We personally train the agronomy staff.
What were some of the factors that led you to market some of your products under the Hefty Seed brand name?
We focus on making complicated things simple for our customers to understand. We’ve chosen to market a number of crop protection additives under the Hefty Seed Company label so our customers don’t have to look at the myriad of additives out there and wonder which ones are the best.
Your company has media exposure with Ag PhD TV and Ag PhD Radio. Do you have any plans to expand in that area?
Ag PhD TV and Radio are completely separate from Hefty Seed Company. We broadcast Ag PhD as an unbiased production agriculture show. If we go on the air and try to sell you crop inputs, you’re not going to watch the show and, frankly, we aren’t going to have as much fun doing the show. What Ag PhD is about is production agriculture and what’s working and what’s not. As far as expansion ideas, we have quite a few that are in the works right now. We’re planning on upgrading our television productions to HD [high-definition] quality within the next year. We’re also working to bring Ag PhD telecasts to our Web site for free downloads. Podcasts are a great means of communication, and we’re working on audio and video podcasts for Ag PhD fans on the go.
Your show Ag PhD is unique to the farm sector. Who came up with the concept?
The concept was really developed in the full-day workshops we’d been doing for a number of years leading up to Ag PhD. We felt there was a need for an agricultural show that focused on more than farm news, weather and markets because those things farmers can’t control. What farmers can control is their agronomic practices, and that’s the focus of Ag PhD TV and Radio.
How long does it take to produce your show, and how involved are you in it?
We create all the content of the show, do the research, and appear on air. It’s up to our producer, Bob Rasmussen, to edit and produce the show. While we will each spend one to four hours per week working on the show, Bob works full time filming and editing the show.