NorthStar News

“Buying Local” Hits Close to Home for Soybean Farmers

By Geoff Geddes

For some people, the idea of buying local is like recycling: a good thing to do as long as THEY don’t have to do it. Increasingly though, shoppers are buying into the concept of supporting local products and services. It’s an idea that’s also catching on with some soybean farmers as they choose between local seed growers and retail operations for their seed needs.

Friesen out the competition

In his role as Sales Agronomist with Friesen Seeds in Rosenort, Manitoba, Kevin Rempel not only understands the appeal of buying local, he banks on it.

As an independent seed company, Friesen Seeds focuses on growing, conditioning, treating, and selling cereals, pulses, and oilseeds, with a strong emphasis on the soybean market.

When it comes to the secret of their success, Rempel points the finger squarely at their hands-on approach.

“The benefit of buying from the local seed grower is that we have tried and tested the varieties and have firsthand experience with their performance,” said Rempel. “Also, we are solely focused on seed. We specialize in it; we grow it, clean it, test it for quality, and sell it, so it’s our responsibility to put the best seed out there.”

Confidence for sale

While his product may be tangible, Rempel said a lot of the attraction for farmers in dealing with local seed growers is something that can’t be seen or touched: confidence.

“My customers like to buy from someone local who really knows the product and who has grown it before. As seed growers, we try to grow the variety one or two years before selling it to our customers so that people have confidence that it will perform for them too.”

Rempel said it’s not just important to look at how and when they grow their seed; it’s also a matter of where they grow it.

“We are testing the product in the same area that we’re selling it, with similar soil types, maturity zones, and management practices.”

When bigger is better

It seems there’s a lot to be said for the local seed grower; still, something must be keeping the bigger retail operations big. One such enterprise is Paterson Grain based in Winnipeg. As a division of Paterson GlobalFoods Inc. — a family-owned group of companies with clients and ongoing ventures in Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Americas – Paterson Grain operates approximately 40 sites across the Canadian Prairies.

According to the manager of the Paterson Grain outlet in Holland, Manitoba, greater size provides greater resources for their clientele as compared to a typical local grower.

“Most people make the decision to buy from a retail business because of the full range of services we provide, such as inoculation and treatment,” said Darrel Callewaert.

He pointed out that some local seed growers are just that: growers.

“Our customers don’t want to worry about treating and inoculating. They want to pick up the product, put it in the planter and be on their way, and with us they can do that,” said Callewaert.

Even Rempel conceded that the larger players can offer bundling of products with fertilizers and chemicals or provide certain financing options. At the same time, he stressed that Friesen also has a one-stop seed service where farmers come and get their seed treated and head straight to their planter.

Ask the expert

Another resource that the big boys can offer is expertise. While Rempel has a Bachelor of Science degree along with his CCA (certified crop advisor) designation, not all local growers can claim the same.

“We have an agronomist on staff, so producers know they are getting sound advice from a knowledgeable source,” said Callewaert.

When it comes to being an expert on local seed grower versus retail, Kris Mazinke fits the bill. On his 3,500 acre farm southwest of Morris, Manitoba, he grows soybeans, canola, wheat, corn, oats, and rye. He uses local growers for about two thirds of his seed and retail for the other third, and finds that both have their benefits.

“Of course you want to shop around for strong varieties, but if the local seed grower has a competitive variety, I want to support them,” said Mazinke.

Still, he’s quick to point out that dealing locally isn’t a charitable endeavour on his part; it’s a good business move.

“If I show loyalty to the local guy I will usually get some benefits back, like getting in early on the next strong variety coming down the pipe.”

As well, Mazinke appreciates what local growers can bring to the table.

“In most cases they have grown these varieties on a field scale level already to see how they perform in our area, so they have a little extra background knowledge on the local scene. If you just go by the book, it won’t always indicate how a certain variety will perform in your area.”

Never one to have tunnel vision, Mazinke also taps into the benefits that retail can offer.

“Often they’ll have a wide range of varieties to choose from, so you can compare one to another and make sure you’re getting the best product for your business.”

Like the handyman in search of the latest power tool, Mazinke said success in farming is about constantly seeking the better producing varieties.

Seeds of success

For Kevin Rempel, “buying local” is not something he actively promotes; however, he does see a benefit to it.

“We don’t necessarily use ‘buying local’ to bring in customers, but we do whatever we can to keep the local business. We try and make it as convenient as possible and offer a complete seed service.”

By his estimate, local growers have captured more than half of the cereal seed business in Manitoba, and he doesn’t see that changing anytime soon.

“We are still the independent, local option, and there’s a certain comfort level with that. We see our customers in the community and they see us; I think that helps build our local relationships.”

So while some only pay lip service to the concept of “buying local,” as long as the majority continues to put their money where their mouth is, it may be a trend that’s here to stay.