Keeping Farming in the Family

December 2, 2009

I called Dave Morris to learn about his farm and dealer operations. He returned my phone call from his tractor. This season, the weather won’t wait. If you get a few good days, you grab them and hit the fields – a story that’s still being repeated all over the Midwest and central plains in the U.S.

Dave and his family live in southeastern Minnesota, farming corn and soybeans. His two brothers and two nephews farm as well. And Dave is a second-generation DeKalb dealer.

“My dad Gene started the dealership in 1988,” he says. “He called it Morris & Sons, because all three of us boys worked in the business from time to time. At the time, we farmed all the land together; my brother Danny also milked the cows and by brother Mark and I had the pigs.”

By the middle 1990s, however, Gene Morris was thinking about getting out of the seed dealer business. Sales were down, and the family could see that the seed business was moving increasingly to the computer. Dave volunteered to buy a computer and order the seed for his father. “That was the first time you could order seed online,” Dave says. “And from then on, each year Dad did a little bit less and I did a little bit more.” By 2000, Dave had built his shop and storage shed, had the DeKalb seed delivered to his place, and began supplying the customers of a small dealer some miles away who had quit the seed business along with their original customers.

By the time Dave began managing the operation for his dad, major changes were underway in the seed business. Monsanto had purchased DeKalb, and then introduced Roundup Ready soybeans, followed by Roundup Ready and YieldGard corn. “The business prospered,” Dave says, “and my part-time job with the dealership soon became a full-time job.

When the new technology seeds were introduced, he says, a lot of farmers were skeptical, doubtful that the seeds would perform as described. “Some at first believed that fertilizer was responsible, but after a time, there was no doubt that traits and breeding were improving yields dramatically,” he says.

Ten years ago, 150 bushels of corn per acre was considered a good yield. Now, he says, 220 to 240 is now what farmers are striving for, and even 200 bushels isn’t good enough. “And it’s our expectation that we’ll hit an average of 300 bushels an acre by 2030; at least that’s what Monsanto says and I have no reason to doubt it, given past performance.” People want the technology and they see the benefits, he says. “Their only hang-up is the price.”

The technology is critical, but Dave also points to something just as important that contributes to his business success. “We’re a family business,” he says. “My brothers and nephews and I all share combines and planters and sprayers. My wife Cathy does the bookkeeping and the accounting, and a lot of other things as well.

“But more than that, we know our seed customers by name. They’re not just a number on a wall on an entry on a spreadsheet. Every grower, no matter how much or how little they buy, is a part of our business. And they know that.”

A lot of Monsanto employees are involved in helping Dave Morris and his family succeed in their business and serve their customers. In future posts, I’ll be talking with a number of them to find out what they do.

%d bloggers like this: