By Matt Reese
Sometimes, being a little crazy can be a good thing.
People in the seed business and on the farm thought Chris Jeffries and Dan Fox were a little crazy 20 years ago when they started a seed company from scratch.
“Nobody really knew what the heck we were doing. No one does that,” Fox said. “Everybody thought we were crazy. No one just starts up a seed company.”
No one except the founders of Seed Consultants, Inc., that is.
“Chris and I worked together at Super Crost Seeds. They did not have a line of beans and Chris actually started a line of beans and he called it ‘Seed Consultants,’” said Fox, the vice president of Seed Consultants. “In 1989, ICI bought Super Crost Seeds and Chris had always said that if something happened, he wanted to go on his own and start his own company. I told him that if he ever did that, I wanted to go with him. I don’t think he thought I was serious.
“After the ICI deal was done, he called me. He said, ‘You don’t understand. I don’t even know if we’ll make enough money to pay each other.’ I told him that I thought we’d be alright.”
With their houses as collateral and a $100,000 line of credit loan, Jefferies and Fox worked with a grower in Illinois and a local seed cleaner, rented a warehouse and started the seed company.
“We started with a full line of corn and beans. We knew what pedigrees we were working with and we purchased those pedigrees through a grower in Illinois that was growing for other companies,” Fox said. “We had the whole summer to get everything ready and the following spring we had our first growing season.”
That first year, the pair sold approximately 4,000 bags of corn and around 10,000 bags of beans.
“We were pretty pleased with that and we were lucky that the company we were working for did not put anyone in the areas that we were covering. Our customers had a tremendous amount of faith in us and we were able to bring almost 80% of my customer base to Seed Consultants,” Fox said. “The biggest challenge was getting the recognition as a viable seed company. Many growers remained suspicious of us and it took us a good 8 years to completely get over that. Things really took off after 10 years and we started growing by leaps and bounds. Many of our competitors that said we wouldn’t be around in five years are no longer in business.”
After the first five years, Seed Consultants was selling 12,500 units of corn and 50,000 units of soybeans. The company has since grown to be Ohio’s largest independent seed company and among the largest independents in the U.S.
“The employees we’ve had have really bought into the company and sacrificed with us. We could’ve never grown like we have without them,” Fox said.
A number of other things fell into place that allowed Seed Consultants to grow so successfully, Jeffries said.
“We have the best customer base in the industry and we have been very lucky. When we started, there were probably over 400 seed companies and now there are about 200. As farmers started adopting these technologies a lot of these companies decided that they did not want to play the game and a lot of them got out,” said Jeffries, the president of Seed Consultants. “We could not have started at a more ideal time. We started out as a low price company and there were depressed corn prices. People were really looking to cut their costs. People looked at us as an alternative to the higher priced corn. If we yielded, they wanted to use us because they could save money and it made sense. There were other smaller companies that were really good that sold and we ended up picking up their customers. Several things happened that just worked. We had good products and a passion for the industry and we filled some voids in the market.”
Jefferies and Fox were in the right place at the right time and they had the hard work ethic and passion for the industry to capitalize on the situation.
“Seed Consultants is like our child. It is like a family to us. We are overachievers and we have been extremely lucky. We will continue to do what got us here,” Jeffries said. “We will test in a lot of locations and that has been part of our growth. We have done an excellent job in finding genetics for our area. We will work with the multinationals that want to work with us. It is not the strongest that survive nor the most intelligent, it is the most adaptive to change and we have been able to do that. As we go forward, we’re going to try not to lose track of our identity and what got us here.”