John Emerson: DSR to Seed Dealer
John Emerson remembers it like it was yesterday. Being hired by Harold Noren and Carroll Christenson, DEKALB Ag marketing executives, for the sales department.
John had recently graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in agriculture and was anxious to work in an agribusiness field. In 1974 he accepted the job as a DEKALB District Sales Representative and would be based in Mt. Vernon, Illinois.
“Being from northern Illinois, I didn’t even know where Mt. Vernon was!” joshed John. His job was to oversee a base of 80 farmer dealers from 17 counties in central to southern Illinois.
As a DSR he learned a great deal about seed corn and provided incentives for farmers to sell more seed. But after three years he chose to return to the family farm in rural Genoa.
He joined his father in the farming operation and also became a DEKALB seed dealer, just like his dad. His father, John L. “Louie” Emerson, had been a dealer since 1955.
“It was a family thing for us,” said the younger John C. “Charles” Emerson. “We always planted DEKALB seed.” Every acre on their centennial farm is DEKALB corn or soybeans.
The father and son team sold seed to farmers in Genoa and Kingston townships and also in McHenry County typically meeting their bag sales goals. Their best year they sold 4,500 bags of seed corn.
“Dad sold enough seed to get a new refrigerator for Mom,” said John C. “It was a nice gift for the housewife.” He explained that the housewives did a lot of the work, too, for the seed sales business.
Their sales earned them achievement awards such as farm prints and dinner plates with beautiful farm drawings commissioned by artists for the company’s seed dealers. And trips were another perk for sales performance.
In the 25 years which John C. was a dealer he said the most notable difference was in the quality of the seed. “The seed got better and it was my job to let farmers know about the product. “I enjoyed the comradery with customers and other dealers. It also was a great education in agronomy which helped me be a better farmer.”
In 2003 he gave up the dealership at a time when many farmer dealerships were being phased out based on corporate changes.
The 69-year-old farmer still is a strong proponent of DEKALB seed as he wears the winged-ear cap, grows the seed, and is surrounded by memories of dealership days in his farm office.
“It was a family thing for us. We always planted DEKALB seed.” John Emerson
Alvin Warren: Loyal Farm Dealer
Alvin “Al” Warren raised DEKALB corn his entire farm life. For 45 years he grew several different DEKALB corn hybrids on his Leland farm.
“I raised both seed corn and regular corn for DEKALB,” said Al. “That is, until they moved seed corn plots to Rock Falls (in 2005). Back in the day there was a lot of DEKALB seed corn grown here – the home of the DeKalb Ag company (with production facilities in nearby Waterman).”
His loyalty to the company was based on “having a good product” and a family history with the organization which was a spinoff of the county’s Soil Improvement Association (Farm Bureau).
His grandfather and namesake, Alvin, built their 1916 farmhouse which he and Myrtie now live in. Grandfather Alvin was both a farmer and state legislator. He also hosted some of the early meetings of the Soil Improvement Association on their farm promoting better farm practices and improved seeds.
Al’s father, Davis, grew DEKALB corn in the early years of the company, when the first hybrids were introduced. Al started farming with his father in 1957 after he had graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in animal science.
Twenty years later, Al became a DEKALB seed dealer taking over the dealership from his high school friend Armond “Shorty” Dannewitz, a Somonauk farmer.
Al claims he was a good salesman for DEKALB which won him many trips for him and his wife.
“We had goals to meet and I met most of them,” said Al. “I had many good years as a seed dealer. I particularly enjoyed the friendships with other dealers.”
Looking back, Al remembers the dealer meetings he attended at local restaurants. He thinks about how all of their four children detasseled corn for the “Ag” on their farm. He reflects on delivering seed to farmers in 50 pound bags. His thoughts then turn to how corn yields have exploded from when his father was farming.
Al retired the seed dealership in 2002 when he quit farming. But remnants of his DEKALB dealership past are all around him. He wears his favorite yellow cap frequently around the farm but especially when he goes fishing in northern Michigan.
Seed corn hats and jackets were everyday apparel in their
farmhouse closets. Some were gifted by the company and others were purchased.
Their farmhouse has many artifacts with the DEKALB winged ear insignia on it – a large framed print, dinner plates, pillows and throws, clocks, kitchen utensils and more. Myrtie’s favorites are the small ceramic house and barn which she lights up at Christmas.
At 88 years, Al beams with pride when he talks about DEKALB and its connections to his farm family.
“I had many good years as a seed dealer. I particularly enjoyed the friendships with other dealers.” Al Warren
Rusty Baie: Generations of Dealers
For the past 80 years the Baie family has maintained a DEKALB seed dealership.
Barton “Rusty” Baie, current dealer, says his grandfather, Clarence, was one of the early dealers starting around 1940. The dealer program began in 1937 with the DeKalb Agricultural Association.
“He was a good salesman,” remembers Rusty. “He liked people and enjoyed selling seed to farmers.”
Rusty and his father, Clare, assisted with the seed dealership which eventually would be transferred to them. “We helped move seed around, starting with the 10th Street warehouse in DeKalb to our current shed in Waterman,” explains Rusty.
“Back in the day, Grandpa was one of the top salesmen – one year he sold 5,400 bags of seed,” he said. “He was a natural at it.” Clarence was in the Winner’s Circle, reserved for an elite group of dealers who achieved the top level of seed sales.
What helped their sales was they believed in the DEKALB seeds they sold to other farmers. “We never grew another bag of anything else,” said Rusty. “It was all DEKALB corn and Asgrow (DEKALB brand) soybeans.” They also grew seed corn and seed beans for the company on their Waterman farm for many years until seed plots were moved to Rock Falls and Ashton in 2005.
Seed deliveries for Rusty’s dealership are in close proximity to his office located next to the Bayer Waterman seed production facility on East Adams Street. Besides the dealership, he also hauls seed and machinery for Bayer through Baie & Baie Trucking, a business his father and grandfather started.
Comparing the seed dealership from his grandpa’s days to the present, Rusty says there are some similarities and some differences. What hasn’t changed much is his customer base, with some longtime, consistent farmer customers in the Waterman and Hinckley areas. There are dealer meetings, field days and training, much like in the past. He also gets a commission for each bag of seed sold, just like his grandpa.
But what has changed is the technology of the seed that’s in the bag. “I wear more than a seed hat anymore,” said Rusty. “I sell seed but also sell biotechnology in the bag.” Today’s seeds have genetic traits which make field corn more resistant to diseases and adverse weather.
Another change has been in the declining number of seed dealers. Rusty is one of four in DeKalb County. He’s able to maintain his dealership based on the volume of sales. Dealerships are now held with cooperatives and agribusinesses who bundle farm input products like seed, fertilizer and chemicals for farmers.
“Yes, it is now big business – it has to be big, whether we like it or not, it’s corporate America,” said Rusty.
The 59-year-old Waterman farmer says the reason he maintains the dealership is, “the family connection plus the good product and technology.”
“It’s been good. I like the people. And it helps better myself in farming.”
“I wear more than a seed hat anymore. I sell seed but also sell technology in the bag.” Rusty Baie
Ed Arndt, Jr: Father to Son Dealership
It’s been more than 40 years since the Arndt’s started a dealership with DEKALB.
Ed “Eddie” Arndt, Sr. expressed interest in a dealership in the late 1970s at a time when they were quite popular and some farmers had to wait for a dealership to open up. He contacted District Sales Manager Jim Montgomery explaining that his son would be farming with him and the extra income would enhance his farm income.
“Dad had several connections to DeKalb Ag then,” said Ed Arndt, Jr. His parents had a friendly relationship with the Charlie Gunn (corn breeder) family. And he worked his college summers at the research farms while interfacing with Charlie Roberts. He also raised foundation seed corn for the company. “So Dad was loyal to DEKALB.”
A year after Eddie had inquired about a dealership, the DSM stopped by their Malta farm to see if he was still interested. The company had made some changes in sales territories which would allow Eddie to sell seed in the Malta-DeKalb area.
In the fall of 1976, Eddie became a DEKALB seed dealer. He was assisted by his son, Ed, and wife, Noel, with keeping track of inventory, billing, and seed deliveries.
“Eddie enjoyed visiting with other farmers and making sales calls. He also enjoyed the dealer meetings,” said Noel.
Back then Noel recalls their handwritten bookkeeping for the seed sales side of their farm business. As far as seed pick up, they would have a clipboard in their shop and farmers would write on the clipboard the number of bags they took or brought back, on an honor system. “It became much more sophisticated over time,” explained Noel.
The dealership eventually transitioned to Ed and his wife, Darla, with gradual changes in the way they ran the seed business based on modern technology, such as computerized records and communication with customers via emails and texting.
It’s one of three farm enterprises for the Arndt’s – along with their crop and hog farm businesses. Ed says it’s a “strong third enterprise” run by the family with help from farm employees.
“Today it’s a very competitive business,” said Ed, about seed sales. “You have to keep the customer serviced or he will go somewhere else.” The 56-year-old farmer recognizes the heightened competition between seed companies and agribusinesses for agronomic sales.
“Communication is important so we work hard at it with our farmer customers to keep their business.”
Like his late dad, Ed also enjoys the comradery with other farmers and a chance to talk about anything ag-related in farm visits.
The Arndt’s stand behind the DEKALB product growing all corn and soybeans from the company that originated here. “Dad saw the company grow and wanted to be part of it as a farmer,” said Ed. “It’s been a good relationship over the years and we firmly believe in their products.”
“Dad saw the company grow and wanted to be part of it as a farmer. It’s been a good relationship over the years and we firmly believe in their products.” Ed Arndt, Jr.