The Story Behind DEKALB Seed Dealers

Posted: August 12, 2020

Farmer seed dealers have been an important piece of the DEKALB story.

Tom Roberts believed the dealer should be a farmer who called on his neighbor. Who better could enthusiastically sell seed on the basis of personal experience? Roberts also believed sales calls should be made well in advance of planting, which is when farmers typically had spare time to make and receive calls.

In 1937, sales manager Rus Rasmussen set up sales districts and began assembling a team of progressive farmers as his dealer force. Rasmussen also originated the idea of having dealers plant test plots of the varieties they sold. In the fall the dealers would host “field days” so customers and prospects could see for themselves the performance of DEKALB hybrids.

Another key innovation was Acres of Gold, a seed catalogue printed in color that informed dealers and customers about all DEKALB varieties. The first cataglogue appeared in 1940, describing hybrids available for the next season.

One of the key hybrids at the time was DEKALB 404A, which helped propel the company to the top. Developed by Charlie Gunn for the northern Corn Belt, 404A established itself as the outstanding single hybrid of the first decade of hybrid corn. Sales of 404A peaked at more than half a million bushels in 1947. The company claimed proudly in its ads and on seed bags: “More Farmers Plant DEKALB Than Any Other Hybrid.”

Source: DEKALB Genetics Corporation
1998 Annual Report

Dealership Changes – In the early 2000s, the seed dealership began to change. Some farmers gave up their dealerships based on competition from cooperatives who were also selling DEKALB seed and due to corporate changes. Some farmers felt that the dealership was not the same family type atmosphere as it was in the days of DeKalb Ag. Today, there are four farmer dealers in the county who sell DEKALB seed along with dealerships held by agribusinesses.

Seed Dealers in the 1980s

After a dealer meeting held at the El Matador restaurant in Sycamore, these farmers posed for a photo besides a corn field on Rt. 64 in 1983. (From back, left, counter clockwise) Chuck Foster, Earlville; Ed Arndt, Sr., Malta; Rich Walter, DeKalb; Ted Andresen, DeKalb; John L. Emerson, Genoa; Joe Lanan, Kingston; Clarence Baie, Waterman; Doug Martenson, Waterman; Clare Baie, Waterman; John C. Emerson, Genoa; Bob Hankes, Sugar Grove; Mark Johnson, Lee; and Melvin Johnson, Lee.