Warren McDonald, sales and marketing manager of Gray’s Seed, shares his thoughts on this decades-old family business.
Gray’s Seed has been a part of the agricultural landscape in Fairland, Indiana, for 73 years. How did it come about?
WARREN MCDONALD: Gray’s Seed has always been a family operation, starting with our founder Gibson Gray in 1946. Before Gray’s Seed, Gibson had a small dairy farm. Then he learned a little bit about seed corn, grew a field and went around to his neighbors to sell it. When his son Gerald came home from college he became actively involved in the business. It’s been growing through the family ever since. Today, we produce about 2,300 acres of seed corn for Corteva Agriscience™ [Agriculture Division of DowDuPont]. As an independent AgVenture Regional Seed Company, we’re part of Corteva’s multichannel seed strategy.
How do you account for the success of Gray’s Seed?
WARREN MCDONALD: We’ve always been customer-focused. The first thing I was taught when I joined Gray’s Seed was that we always try to do the right thing. We like to sleep at night and we sleep pretty well. We bring the right products forward and put our customers’ businesses first.
We’re firm believers in the AgVenture Maximum Profit System™ (MPS). We spend a lot of time focusing on this strategy for our customers. With MPS, we help farmers increase their yield by selecting the right seed. But it doesn’t end with the seed. We also help them choose the right herbicides, fungicides and pesticides for their fields. We provide input and expertise, in addition to products, that help our customers increase yield.
Because your customers count on you for advice, what are you recommending, going into planting season?
WARREN MCDONALD: We’re helping them lay the groundwork for a profitable harvest. Recently, we hosted a lunch meeting that focused on how to get ready for planting season and how to build a circle of influence for making better decisions. Our key speaker was agronomist Jerry Hartsock with Cutting Edge Consulting and Research Services. He’s done this for us for nine years now. This year, 45 farmers attended. That’s a good turnout.
Probably the number one focus of most of our customers is making sure their planters are completely dialed in. Everything today is precision oriented with GPS to the point where many farmers are monitoring seed-to-soil contact, percentage efficacy and accuracy of drop as they go across the field. It’s gotten to where a lot of my customers rebuild their planting equipment nearly every year.
How about early season weed control?
WARREN MCDONALD: Our motto has always been “Start clean, stay clean.” That means you don’t let weeds get ahead of you. You make sure that you take action in the fall to control winter annuals, then in the spring put a good residual down that’s going to hold weeds back until it’s time to post spray. It’s a lot harder to kill big weeds than little ones.
How does Gray’s Seed help farmers eliminate yield barriers?
WARREN MCDONALD: We build relationships with our customers to truly understand the profile of each farm and what each farmer needs to do to boost output. Every farm is different. We customize our approach for every farm through local seed selection, local service and local product knowledge. I think you need to focus on your strengths as a company or a farm. Take what a farmer does well and help him do more with it. In some cases, it’s as simple as breaking the cycle of what grandpa used to do.
What would you count as Gray’s Seed’s strengths?
WARREN MCDONALD: Our independence. I think that’s a tremendous strength. And the other thing is that we’re flexible. We’re not locked into a rigid corporate structure. We also provide the best quality seed out there. We don’t show up at farms with poor products. The value we put on relationships is a major strength. People buy from someone they trust. We’ve been here a long time and we’re a part of the community. We maintain relationships. There have been a lot of mergers and acquisitions among the big national brands. AgVenture Gray’s Seed is independently owned and operated. We are who we are. We’re part of the country’s largest network of independent seed companies. I appreciate that and so do our customers.