Once a small seed company, AgriGold has changed through the years. In this episode, we celebrate the times of a true AgriGold Giant. Join our host, Todd Steinacher, as he walks through the career of AgriGold’s retiring Brand Manager, John Kermicle. John reminisces about his early career with AgriGold, and talks about the growth of the company, his accomplishments, and where he sees the company moving forward. We also get to hear his insights on the relationship between farmer and agronomist in this special interview.
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A True AgriGold Giant: The Legacy Of John Kermicle
My goal has been and will always be to bring agronomic insights that can profitably influence higher yields but also to bring industry leaders to share their experiences. I get to bring a special guest who is a legend in the seed industry, AgriGold Brand Manager, John Kermicle. He announced his retirement from AgriGold. I knew that I wanted to have an opportunity to visit with him to learn about his experiences and share that with you all as well.
John, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Todd. I’m excited to be joining you.
We’re all excited to have you as our guest, John, me and all of our readers out there. You announced your retirement from the seed industry within AgriGold. You started the industry in 1984.
It was towards the end of 1984. It was a different industry at the time.
I can imagine, John. ’84 is a pretty good year because that’s the year I was born so I can remember it. I don’t remember a lot of what took place in those first 3 or 4 years but I know a lot evolved within the AgriGold brand as well as the industry in those times. I can remember a lot of the evolutions that I’ve seen in several years being in the industry. John, I always love hearing your stories about how the AgriGold brand evolved. Tell us your memories and stories about how the AgriGold brand evolved from what it was to what it is now and where you played some key pieces in there.
Back in ’84, the industry was different. There were probably 400 seed brands and a lot of smaller family-owned companies. Our company was one of those. Clarence and Dave Akin owned the company. Clarence graduated from the University of Illinois back in 1936. He met a guy up there by the name of Gene Funk. We were part of the Funk’s G Associated Growers for many years and then decided to split off and start with the Golden Harvest group in ’74. In 1979, that split off and started AgriGold. When I came along in ’84, we were starting five years into the AgriGold brand. I can say I’ve been here since the beginning. The interesting thing is I started out in research. Clarence Akin, his interest was the genetic side of the business. He focused on research and genetics. Dave Akin’s son was a marketing genius. Back then, he did some things that was unusual in the seed industry and set us apart on the marketing side. I got introduced to the research side and marketing at the same time because we were small. I got to do a little bit of everything.
You got to be on the marketing side and the research side. It is beneficial to yourself to have been in all these different positions. Being in your leadership role for the last several years, you can understand the challenges that go into those departments. You referenced the research side. That leads into production. As we know from a production field, we have biology out there. A production field is probably just as vulnerable to the environment as a farmer’s field. I’m sure there’s a whole other layer of complexity that goes into a production field. I’d like to know your thoughts, John, on some of the challenges you or the industry faces.
When you’re doing genetic research, you’re always trying to find that high-yield, agronomically-sound hybrid. Invariably, those types of inbreds, not 100% of the time but most of the time it seems like they’re hard to grow in the seed field for whatever reason. What’s always been interesting in my career is how do you take a high-yielding product for the farmer that may be a challenge to grow in production and make it a win for both the seed company and the farmer. There had been a lot of breakthroughs on the production side too. That’s one part of the business I haven’t been as involved with. The industry production teams have learned how to grow these inbreds even when they are hard to grow.
From the production side, John, I can remember coming on board and sitting at some of the meetings and trying to decide which hybrids to phase out or move forward with. I’ve been selling seed forever but I never gave consideration to how easy it was to produce. If we have a good hybrid that customers like but yet it’s so challenging to produce that, you might not have enough but it’s going to be variable year in, year out to where it’s going to be more risk to farmers. Until I came in on the agronomy team, I never gave that consideration. Most growers could feel the same. They always say, “I finally got this great hybrid. I know how to work it. We’re moving away from it. It’s not because it’s not a great hybrid, it’s just we can’t produce it. It’s very hard to produce and a lot of challenges are there.” I’m sure there had been a lot of products throughout your career you’ve challenged that as well.
The big story with AgriGold, the breakthrough we have wad 6395. I always say, in your career, you’re lucky if you get one breakthrough hybrid every decade. Maybe in some cases, only one breakthrough hybrid in a career. For us, it was 6395, which came out of some of the work that some of the AgriGold research people were doing. When Limagrain bought the company from the Akin family in ’94, the Limagrain team at the time recognized that something was special there. He started working with it. The rest was history. Back in about 2000, we introduced that hybrid. It was unbelievable, high-yield and dried down. We were expanding into Iowa at the time. It was a home run in Iowa, Central Illinois. One of those unbeatable hybrids.
John, would you say that’s probably the main stick out hybrid you’ve experienced in your career?
I was fortunate because that one was introduced around 2000. It wasn’t too long after that, probably about 7, 8 years that there were some hybrids developed out of that background. That was our family B genetics, the Lancasters that we call the Giants. We got so spoiled with 6395. We had this rule, if a hybrid could beat the competitors in plots by an average of 6 bushels and win 2/3 of the time over more than 100 locations, we call it the Giant. We had a whole group of giants that we introduced there in about 2008 and 2009. 6533 was the leader of that group, 6458. We had two sets of breakthrough hybrids during my career. Our brand doubled and tripled in size in a few short years with those hybrids.
John, when you referenced some of those products, you referenced them being family B’s, the Lancasters. Coming into AgriGold in the last several years, I had a chance to understand families. I always knew there are different genetic backgrounds but never associated families. From my standpoint, I liked families. As new products come out so fast now, me as an agronomist, a CCA or a grower, ”This is a Family B, I know how to manage it. This is a Family F, I know how to manage it.” As you’re sitting back developing these families probably from a marketing standpoint and trying to keep things easy, what was that process like? What was your goal behind it?
Back in those years, we probably weren’t nearly as sophisticated with our marketing as we are now. The lead agronomist at the time and I sat down. One of the biggest things that differentiate the seed brands’ diversity is that farmers have different soil types and environments out there. They need different genetic backgrounds. We were like, “How can we come up with a simple way to differentiate the different genetic backgrounds that we have as AgriGold?” All we could come up with was Family A, B, F, G. It wasn’t very sophisticated. It stuck. That’s a neat thing that differentiates us. Even now, you grab one of our hybrid profile guides and open that up. We still tell our customers exactly what family background the hybrid is. That’s a big deal when you farm several thousand acres and you’re trying to adapt or have differentiation out there. You don’t want one hybrid. With 6395, some people say, “I’m going to put the whole farm in 6395.” That’s unusual. Most farms want and need more than one hybrid. That’s what that diversity and genetic family is all about.
John, you referenced inbreeding and production. We try to find these high-yielding hybrids. Everybody knows out there that there is no silver bullet. There is no perfect hybrid. How are we going to get pretty darn close? Most hybrids that make it to the market into a farmer’s field have good yield potential but there’s always a weakness to it. It seems like as we strive for higher yields regardless of where you’re located in the country, we got to understand those weaknesses. To me, by having these families and knowing the genetic background, we know they got good yield to it but we know some of their weaknesses to it. It could be a disease package from Northern corn leaf blight, gray leaf spot, Southern rust. How it can handle what feed or not? In Central Illinois, the majority of my territory is we have a lot of flat black wet feet ground. We have to understand how to manage that. As you move to West or some other direction, maybe it’s not as critical. It’s so important to understand those backgrounds. I’m glad that AgriGold and you developed that for us to have those conversations. John, as I drive down the roads now, I look at tassels. Prior to that, maybe there are some differences of tassels but when you go to a plot and you look in these hybrids as you’re driving empty the fields or down through the interstates and highways, I’m picking out tassels left and right. That’s because of you guys.
There are a couple of points on that. I don’t want to leave our readers thinking if something’s high-yielding for the farmer and we have a hard time producing it that we don’t grow it. Our production team figures out a way to grow hybrid. For example, 6659 is a hybrid that’s been around a long time for us. It was a good hybrid in the South. It’s hard to grow but we’ve been growing it now for several years. The team has become innovative. For years, we’ve had good seed deals too. If something’s good in the farmer’s field, we’re going to try to figure it out in most cases. Back to your point about the chink in the armor on every hybrid, two stories on that. Back in the ’90s, there was a hybrid from Pioneer, 3394. Any of our farmers reading that farm back in the ’90s know it was unbeatable. We would weigh plots. We were pumped if we could get within a single-digit yield on it. It usually beat everything in the plot by 10-plus bushels.
That went on for years. All of a sudden, we had high levels of clicked gray leaf spot. In 1 or 2 years, that hybrid was decimated because it couldn’t handle gray leaf spot. Same as 6395, it’s a great hybrid, unbeatable. You think it’s going to last forever. The problem was test weight. It had a lighter test weight and farmers wanted that heavier test weight corn. Our competitors were developing higher test weight corns that were slowly gaining on 6395 to share of. In time, that evened out. There’s no perfect hybrid out there. That’s why we need diversity and families.
John, what I’ve learned in my short time here at AgriGold, we spend a lot of time putting in plots. Maybe a lot of times plots are a challenge. We don’t like to put them in sometimes because of the environment. We use that information so highly not only from a farmer’s standpoint but our PCR program, the breeding trials. The more eyes we have looking at these products across the footprint gives us better sight. With a lot of the digital tools, the analytics and the predictive models, we’re advancing products much faster.
A lot of farmers say, “John, I am not going to slow down. I farm 3,000, 5,000, 10,000 acres. I plant a plot. It’s not worth my time.” I would argue with them every time. You can look at plot yield results and third-party trials but the best place to look at results is on your own farm. Some of our customers that grow more than 10,000 acres take time to put out a plot. They want to see what the genetics will do on their farm. I highly encourage that. Find a field that’s typical for your farm. Put out a plot. Work with your seed brand. You’ll learn more from that plot than almost anything you can do. Todd, when the agronomist from the seed brand comes out and walks through that with you, you look at disease pressure, standability and tassels for diversification. It’s the way to learn.
John, hybrids are bred for super high-yield potential. As we swing the pendulum one way for higher yields, we tend to give up a little bit. We’ve got to manage it. If all we’re doing is looking at one plot because we didn’t want to do it on our own farms and fields, we don’t know the tillage and the amount of grey leaf pressure there. Was it sprayed with a fungicide? Do they manage nitrogen? There’s so much information that’s not there. Third-party data is very good. We can pull a little bit from it. Unless it’s on your operation, how you plant, your speed, your planner, your fertility program, the way you manage nitrogen, that’s where we’re going to learn how hybrids work for you. With the digital technology now, you could put in how many entries you want to be looking at. With a push of the button, you can change the population. You’ll know how much flex these hybrids have. You can go back in the middle of it, maybe the back half or front half and adjust the nitrogen rate to it. Right there, you know which hybrids you like, how to manage the nitrogen to it because we got to manage the grain fill and then which population is going to work best of my management. There’s much information right there for the next couple of years.
Todd, as a farmer you say, “I don’t have time for a plot,” the one thing that you made me think of that we got involved with several years ago was the NCGA contest. People were like, “What do you gain from trying to grow 500-bushel corn? That’s crazy. That doesn’t apply to my operation.” You’re talking about different agronomic practices like fungicides, fertility, maybe some micronutrients, maybe some tissue sampling. You don’t want to put out a plot. What about taking 40 acres, 80 acres and trying something new? What we’ve done is taking what we’ve learned from the NCGA yield contest. People on your team, Todd, have applied that across commercial acres and found ways to increase yields 2, 3, 5, 10 bushels across their whole farm by a micronutrient or different fungicide application. Some of our best customers were always tweeting me, texting me or Snapchatting, “We tweak this one little thing across all the corn acres and we gain 3 to 5 bushels.” That is what it’s all about, Todd.
When we start talking about NCGA folks and some of the yields they’ve obtained, it’s not necessarily saying, “I can’t achieve that.” The question should be, “What can I achieve?” At the end of the day, if we’re happy with the bushels we’re getting, that’s okay. If you got a taste for little extra bushels, there are opportunities out there. John, before coming to AgriGold, I had one model of thinking on raising higher yields in corn. Being involved with some customers on the NCGA process, specifically the flag test studies, opened my eyes a lot. The tissue sampling projects have greatly opened my eyes. Prior to that, John, when I go out on service call, usually it’s when the combines going through the field and maybe the customer’s not quite happy with the performance or something. Here you’re playing almost like CSI cornfield backward. You’re going out there and figuring out why the yield didn’t reach its ideal potential and then explain it.
With all of those together, I become very good at going backward and figuring out where yield was gained and lost and what event took place. If you work backward and then manage from the end going forward, that’s where I’ve helped growers increase yields. It’s these little things that we pick up. If you were to ask any folks in the high-yield contest, how often are they in their fields? Did they plan it, come back and harvest? Most of them would say, “I was out there every week looking at things, analyzing the soil, analyzing plants. Why is this plant a little shorter? I’m digging them as I coddle up and trying to understand all these things” The devil’s in the detail. Yield is in the detail. The more time we focus on it, we’re going to become better stewards to the field and to the crop.
The challenge is corn was $3 not too long ago. We were all fighting for that extra 5 to 10 bushels to pay the bills. Who knows what corn is going to be? As we go into 2021, you can already contract for 2X of what it was. That tends to lead us to be a little bit sloppy about the stuff we’re talking about. Maybe we don’t want to get the bushel. In the end, it’s a competitive business. That grower that’s getting those extra bushels, all this pays off, all these little tweaks and things we learn. A lot of our customers don’t try it for 500 bushels. They just say, “I don’t want to break 300 bushels in the contest.” I know a couple of guys that for 2 or 3 years, they come up short like 296. They might be so frustrated. I’m like, “You learn much. You learn what didn’t work and what did work.” The third year, they breakthrough. They find things that they can apply to their whole farm. Their whole-farm yield comes up. I’m going to challenge everyone because corn and soybean prices are high. Let’s not get sloppy on this. Let’s keep pushing. Commodity prices don’t stay like they are now.
I’ve had conversations with some growers saying, “Commodity prices are high now but high prices fix high prices.” Eventually, that pendulum is going to swing the other way. The theory is now is the time to try these things because the risk isn’t as high. Let’s try the split nitrogen. Let’s try bumping the population up so when that pendulum does swing back the other way, we know what works. We know how to grab those bushels profitably. There are a lot of folks that are trying these items in 2021. Hopefully, they can figure out what’s going to work for them when that pendulum swings the other way.
We’ve been talking all about corn, Todd. Another big thing in my career is when AgriGold introduced soybeans. For so many years, our subtitle or byline was we were the corn specialists. We know corn. I had fought that all along. It’s ended up being a tremendous thing. We’ve got growers doing the same thing. There’s not an NCGA contest but there’s a lot of state contests on soybeans. We’ve learned a ton about soybeans too, Todd. We’re talking about corn and soybeans. My brother grows wheat. He has a high management program he uses on wheat. He’s getting double the yields my dad did. Whatever crop you’re growing, that’s what I love about AgriGold. It’s all about being the best.
John, it doesn’t matter which crop we look at, which state. If we look over time, historically, our yield trend is going up. We can gain a lot from breeding better seed quality and all these other pieces but it comes down to the fundamental agronomics. How are we managing things differently? I can remember looking at the corn projection chart over the years. You can tell when we went from open-pollinated corn to hybrid corn and jumped to different types of fertility from a nitrogen specifically standpoint. It seems like there are always these big jumps in evolution. I’m sure you’ve seen those across your career. From a soybean standpoint, we’ve done great for corn for so long, now it’s time to start focusing on soybeans. That’s where we’re seeing these higher-yielding soybeans in the last several years. We’re seeing some very high yields that are being achieved.
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. I’ve fought the soybean thing for so long. It was a separation that we focused on corn but our timing on soybeans was impeccable. There were new traits, new genetics. If you did it percentage-wise, corn on average goes up 1.5 bushels, 2 bushels a year. The last few years on soybeans, it seemed like forever, 50 to 60 bushels soybeans were the norm. Now we have growers doing whole fields, 80, 90, 100 bushels. Think about that, Todd. It’s the seed treatments, the fungicides, population management, the new traits, new herbicide programs. Soybeans have been exciting. Our sales team has been motivated to have that whole farm offer for growers that have corn and beans to the AgriGold across the farm.
John, the ag industry is very unique compared to other industries when it comes to selling and offering products. To me, specifically from a seed standpoint, corn and soybeans, a lot of relationships are still involved in that process. As agronomics change, new products, farmers still want to work with a trusted advisor. All these different pieces can play with the industry. Price is always an issue out there, supply, work and agronomic challenges. Most farmers still want to work with a trusted advisor. To me by AgriGold, CCAs, agronomists, us as a brand have both corn and soybeans. Regardless of what crop is going to get planted on that acre, that customer can still know that, “I’m still going to be working with my trusted advisor, my AgriGold CCAs, my AgriGold agronomist.” To me, that’s a better way that we can support that farmer, that operation.
When I got in the seed industry from ’84 to about ’96, when traits first started being introduced, the seed industry was so simple. It was all conventional corn, little seed treatment issue. From ’96 to 2021, it has become extremely complicated. That’s a great call-out, Todd, the trusted advisor. Our customers tell me, “John, it’s so complicated. I’m not sure what seed treatment, hybrid, soybean variety or what trade I need. I need someone to tell me that I can trust.” I’m pretty prejudiced that we’ve got one of the best agronomy teams and one of the best sales teams in the industry. Our people take it personally to have that one-on-one relationship with the grower. They live and breathe with that grower his or her success on their farm. They take it personally when it doesn’t do well and celebrates when the yields are great.
John, I appreciate that call on the agronomy team in what AgriGold does. I’ll take it a little bit further, John. I’ve always appreciated how you value good agronomy. You allow the agronomy team to work in this nontraditional area. We get to be involved in sales and product development. We get to help on the farm. We get to do all these goofy projects that you allow us to do every year. Part of our job title is to do flag test studies, tissue sampling project, nitrogen trials or do whatever we can to work with these customers. To me, I’ve always valued that. In the last handful of years, the agronomist or agronomy department may be viewed as overhead. I’ve seen where some companies have scaled back that program. You always valued it. AgriGold has and will continue to value that. People don’t know the value that we bring to the table. AgriGold sees value in that. I very much appreciate your philosophy on good agronomy.
That goes back to when I started back in the ’80s. I was helping with research but also the “agronomy department,” we were so small at the time. I remember going out and visiting with farmers that were having issues or something in their field. It was frustrating. I love when you said it’s like being a CSI guy or something. I love agronomy myself. I wish I had about five careers. I’d want to be a plant breeder, an agronomist, a lead salesperson. I love all parts of the seed industry. It’s exciting. You’ve got to have a good agronomy team that’s trying to find new ways to grow better crops. Salespeople focus on the sales side. That’s great but you’ve got to have that support from an agronomy side.
From a salesman standpoint, CCAs, they got so many things going on in their world to keep the business side of something running for that grower. It’s hard for them to be down into the weeds from an agronomic standpoint. I’m very thankful for the team I get to work with from a CCA’s standpoint, a lot of professionalism. The questions I get are great. A lot of times it’s questions that maybe a customer calls in and says, “Can you ask your agronomist this?” Maybe we were at a meeting and they didn’t want to raise their hands so they waited until afterward. “Can you answer this question for me?” To me, it still goes back to the fundamentals. We want to take care of customers but we also want to provide them agronomic insight that we’ve learned. The environments are challenging. I don’t know how many conversations I’ve had on the nitrogen cycle. I’m passionate about nitrogen as it relates to corn and protecting all the way to the black layer. I appreciate all those conversations that we get to have. The CCAs have allowed us to have those conversations with customers.
A big thing as a farmer is as you work with your agronomists, hopefully it’s with AgriGold but whatever your seed brand, there’s not a bad question, Todd. Growers see things in their field. Sometimes they’re afraid to pick up the phone and call their agronomists and say, “What’s going on out here?” That’s when we get breakthrough ideas, is when we see something different or unique going on in the field. You guys have a pretty big team now . If there’s something out there, you got emails flying around, “Has anybody seen this?” That’s what it’s all about. That’s what the agronomy department is there for, to answer those questions that are hard to answer.
The thing is, John, not all the time we can answer those questions. Sometimes I’m still working off something I can’t figure out from several years ago but you can at least try to peg roughly what it might be. You hit the nail on the head. You see all these emails going around our departments getting bigger as the AgriGold footprint expands. There’s a huge network. If I or whichever agronomists worked in your area, there’s a huge network within the agronomy team, tons of experience. You figure each agronomist has their own network outside of AgriGold so there’s going to be other industry folks or they’re connected with the university folks. There’s a huge network by asking some questions to your local field representatives within AgriGold or other brands like that. There’s a lot of knowledge out there. Are you willing to ask it?
One other thing I want to call out that is pretty amazing with AgReliant and AgriGold is the biggest thing in agriculture that we haven’t been able to manage unless you’re fortunate enough to have irrigation is the weather. We had a neat tool, Todd, that we introduced years ago, Advantage Acre. The big thing about that is that tie-in was weather trends. It was right on again in 2021. What I love is it’s predictive. Out of eleven months, the trend of weather, not necessarily what the weather is going to be on a specific day, that’s been a huge advantage for our customers. We could see we were going to have that window in late April of 2021 and told our customers to push hard. The part of the geography I’ve been driving that early, corn looks tremendous. Our agronomists were saying, “There’s going to be a window.” We have that weather trend application. That’s a huge step you can work with. You don’t manage the weather. You work with it, Todd. Work with what it’s going to throw your way.
There are no silver bullets from a hybrid. We work with good hybrids. We know their weaknesses. Let’s put that from a weather standpoint. Mother Nature has the final trump card. Instead of working against her, let’s work with her. Often, I get in conversations with the weather trend model. It wasn’t exactly accurate in this microenvironment but if you look at the bigger picture, the trend was there. It’s going to let us know these opportunities when we should plant. I’ve used it for years on making nitrogen applications or knowing how big the grain fill window is or what’s fall going to look like from an operational standpoint harvest. I use the GDE tracker that I pull out of the Advantage Acre piece. If we plant on X date, when do I get to 120 GDEs to when I know that corn crop is going to come up? If I know it’s going to be in a lot of risk, I might alter the population or the nitrogen with it. It’s all these insights that we have that we can influence a decision. That’s where we’re going to come out ahead.
If you think about my career now, the things that have been introduced that we can manage whether it’s diseases with fungicides, emergence with a better seed treatment. If my dad would have planted corn back in the ’50s and ’60s in early April with cold temperatures, nothing would have come up because we didn’t have the seed treatments. Now we’re talking about managing weather or working with the weather. I can’t wait to see what the next several years bring. It’s going to be exponential, the changes in agriculture and the seed industry. We’re in a great place where we can take this technology and apply it. The little shut-off valves in rows or headlands, whatever you call them in your area, that’s cool. That’s one little technology. There’s so much happening. It’s a lot of fun.
John, several years ago, you may or may not know this but I did a project with Western Illinois University with some of their Agronomy students. We went out. I was always told that there’s an emergence difference in the seed direction, the furrow, tip-up or tip-down. I was out there with all these students with toothpicks. The planter went through, made the furrow. We stand close with the planter. I had him out there with toothpicks moving the seed up and down. They probably thought I was crazy. We covered it back over. We did a flag test study with it compared to parallel in the furrow, tip-up, tip down. You could go back and tell the difference especially on a challenging year. If somebody’s like, “How does that benefit me? What can I do about it?” Up to this point, mechanically, there was nothing you could do. However, John, I remember seeing a tweet that there are some folks testing some early models of planters that can alter the seed direction. The future is here, John.
I saw Ken Berry working on that. If you already know the answers, you should call Ken. He was working with one of the prototype planters. We haven’t even talked about planters and equipment. If you ride with a farmer now, that tractor cab looks like a spaceship. It’s like the first spaceship that landed on the moon almost and the technology we have that we can adjust row spacing. All those little things are huge. Little things make a big difference.
John, I’m in the industry now. We’ve already got traits. We’ve already got refuge in a bag. A lot of these things are second nature. I can still remember the first time I got a text message. I didn’t know what it was. I can remember exactly what it said and where it was. It was going over the top of train tracks. The phone starts vibrating. I’m like, “What is this?” I always tell that story. Cellphones now are standard life. Text messages are a greater part of our business. My question, John, is, from a corn standpoint, for years, it was bags of corn and then all of a sudden somebody had this idea, “Let’s put them in a big black box.” It seemed like that was almost revolutionary for the time. We see so many boxes. Can you remember when the industry went from bagged corn to boxed corn? Were you in a meeting like, “What is this guy talking about?”
It’s the same thing. We fought it. Any change that comes along, the tendency is to fight it just as farm size gets bigger and bigger. That’s a big question. How many hybrids with a 10,000-acre corn farmer want on his operation? They want 2 or 3 hybrids. Is that possible? If it was 2 or 3 hybrids then we can go from boxes to bulk semi to move the seed around. That’s one of the challenges we have. The seed industry is finding those hybrids that are consistent over all these different conditions. Those are rare. That’s like 3394 and 6395. Finding that Mr. Consistent hybrid is like my favorite basketball team in Illinois trying to find that perfect player that can be a guard, a forward and a center. It doesn’t happen.
You got to evaluate everything. Hopefully, it’s going to work sometimes.
We’re looking at short-statured corn. That’s the new buzzword. I don’t think we fully explored populations. Is it better to have a bunch of small ears or fewer big ears? We’re still pushing populations and all these other things that we’ve talked about. I don’t think we’ve even tapped the potential of the corn crop. Whether they say a bag of corn, what’s the potential before it’s ever opened, Todd? It’s huge.
That’s the highest potential there is. The moment you pull the string out, yield starts going down. Honestly, John, that thought right there, the moment I heard that, it wasn’t until I was later in college or a couple of years when I started thinking about yield that way. It may be because there are a lot of products in the market, “If you spray this or do this, you’ll increase yield.” I started thinking I’m not increasing yield. I’m protecting yield. You could spend all day long putting all these products out there. “Here are 5 bushels.” Eventually, we’ll get to 500 bushels. To me, it’s about protecting that top-end yield that’s already been established. If we think about the yield from that standpoint and then make our investments not a cost, investments to split our nitrogen, make sure we’re going to have ears out there, the fungicide piece to protect through a black layer. To me, it’s a difference in psychology how we think about yield. That was a big turning point for me.
The other thing about farming is every time you have to make tough decisions like applying fungicide, the weather forecast says no rain for the next twenty days, you’re like, “Should I spend this money?” I remember almost every year, it’s 10 to 15 bushels and the rain usually comes. Unfortunately, we have to make a lot of tough decisions whether we’re in the seed business or farming.
John, it goes back to having a good network that you can have as a trusted advisor. From AgriGold’s standpoint, it’s not like we’re out there selling fungicides. To me, we can make a better recommendation. At the end of the day, we want that hybrid or variety from a soybean standpoint to be as successful as it can be for that grower. That is where our loyalty lies is to make sure that plant produces as much as it can for that grower so we’ll have a returning customer the following year. Having a good network is so important. John, there are a lot of high school and college students getting done with their graduation ceremonies, getting ready to go into the seed industry. The seed industry and ag is a shining star within industries of where to go. If any of these students are thinking about the seed industry or going into agriculture, what might be some words of wisdom you’d pass onto them?
A lot depends on your skillset. There’s always a shortage of geneticists and plant breeders. If you’re interested in science and math, pursue that goal. It sounds boring to do that but it’s exciting. It’s almost like you’re a college coach trying to find that perfect player. You’re trying to find that perfect hybrid. That’s number one. Not all of us have that skillset. I was in it but that was not my background. You step back. There’s always that need for agronomists, to be that trusted advisor in sales. I grew up on a farm where my dad’s not a salesperson. He’s a farmer. I’ve learned to appreciate sales. It’s not so much selling as we think about that used car salesman but it’s how we bring value to our customers. It’s combining the work of the research team, the agronomist and then the salesperson is the one that presents the product. Agriculture is the place to be. I started in the ’80s. For farmers that started in the ’80s, they know it was pretty bleak during that period. Since then, it has exploded the opportunities in agriculture. We know the world population is growing every year, people are hungry and need to be fed. I don’t think you can go wrong going into agriculture.
John, I can remember going into college myself, wanting to get an Agronomy degree or Ag degree. To me, there are so many opportunities that you can go into any area that you decide your passion lies. The ag industry is very exciting. Moving forward, there are lots of opportunities and excitements. If you do like sales, agronomy, mathematics, the biological side of it, there are huge opportunities.
My uncle’s been a geneticist his entire career working with corn but a lot of his big discoveries have been things that have helped with cancer or different health issues because it’s genetics. Genetics go across different disciplines. You may not even be in agriculture and still using some of the knowledge that we’re learning, some of the breakthroughs. It’s an exciting time.
John, my time of knowing you, you’ve always been a great, all-around good guy. When my dad was close to passing, you reached out to me multiple times. I’m sure you do to other people as well. I’m always excited to get that Facebook message on my birthday from John Kermicle saying, “Happy birthday, Todd. Hopefully, it’s the best yet.” John, I’m sure I’m not the only one you do that for. You do that for everybody in your network, your family. It’s because you value people. In a lot of cases, maybe in an upper management role, you tend not to see that from a lot of folks. That’s why you’re so unique in the industry, that you do value people. When we’re at large meetings, you always take the time to talk to people, ask how their families are doing, how their kids are doing. You’re very relatable. I’ve never worked in an environment like that before. I’ve always appreciated that in conversations we’ve had. On behalf of your current employees and your past employees, thank you. Thank you for being a good leader. You’ve been a great mentor for many folks. Thank you for being a good friend. As you enter the final parts of your retirement, know that you’ve impacted a lot of us and we’re going to carry on your legacy.
That’s kind. We’re in the seed business but ran the people business. I don’t care what business, you sell cars or concrete. At the end of the day, it’s a relationship between you and the customer. Every day, things get put in perspective. When a close friend or a close customer has a sudden health scare or something happens in their family, that’s what it’s all about. It’s been a great career. I’ve worked with a lot of great people. Hopefully, we’ve had a little bit of impact along the way. Thank you very much, Todd.
You bet, John. If you have any closing comments for any customers reading, any prospective customers reading out there, employees or former employees, I’ll give you an opportunity to direct any comments towards them.
The great thing about AgriGold has been the relationship we’ve had with our customers. Thank you to all of our customers. Even when AgriGold was small several years ago, you trusted us to be your seed company and have grown with us. Same with our employees. When I started, we only had nine salespeople. Now, we’ve got over 120. Employees have trusted us and trusted our vision. Thank you to our customers, to our employees and to prospective customers out there. The unique position AgReliant and AgriGold have with our genetics, the agronomics Todd and I talked about, the weather trends. Predicting weather trends far outsets us apart. Give us a shot if you haven’t yet.
John, congratulations on your retirement. Hopefully, you’ll find some hobbies once you retire. I know you’ve got some grandkids scattered around so I’m sure you’re looking forward to spending some quality time with them.
Thank you, Todd. This has been a lot of fun.
Thank you, John. Thanks for reading out there. Have a good one.
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