Selling to Farmers (De Kalb, 1939) – The Book

One of the most intriguing books I own is Selling to Farmers by Larry Williams, published in 1939. It is relatively small in size, hardbound with green boards and features the De Kalb winged ear of corn on the cover. (Yes, “De Kalb,” not “Dekalb.”) The De Kalb County Agricultural Association was founded around 1918 and was the grass roots foundation of the Dekalb seed company.

Several requests have come in from folks looking to find this book. I’m not aware of any reprints but the link below is a copy provided by @dror_sharon (Twitter) who graciously offered to scan the book and create a PDF file to share with others. It takes time and effort to do this – his contribution to the seed industry and agricultural and literary communities, in general, is much appreciated. Thank you, Dror!

The book was a training manual for new sales representatives. In context, the “sales rep” was a farmer who was managing his own farm but also represented the De kalb seed brand. He grew the hybrids on his own land and used his experiences (testimonials) to sell seed to neighbors. But the behavior required to become an effective seed professional was not common knowledge, in my opinion. Sure, there were reps from equipment companies and other suppliers that they interacted with. But until the adoption of hybrid corn seed, most folks saved their own open-pollinated seed for future plantings. They didn’t really interact with seed company personnel or have any experience with the selling process of hybrid seed. The late 1930s was the advent and growth of seed sellers across the Midwest and other regions. This book, then, was a presentation of the behavior and practices needed to be successful.

While certainly dated (descriptions of social norms throughout the text, for example), the principles are still sound 80 years later. Throughout, there are several discussions of behavior that are based simply on treating people with courtesy and respect. For me, they are good reminders of how much better I can be as a seed professional and, more importantly, as a person.

I want you to do well. ~ph

2020-21 Pioneer Hi-Bred Seed Catalog

It may not have the same feeling as the arrival of the Sears Catalog back in the old days, but the 2020-21 Pioneer Hi-Bred catalog has just been published. Different from yesteryear, this catalog comes to you digitally – as a PDF file. The print version will still be available for those that prefer to sit down at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and a pair of reader glasses and leisurely browse through the newest hybrids and varieties. The PDF version provided below is great for use on smart devices where you can zoom in to see the small print and digitally “flip” through the pages. (Note: this catalog version is for South, Central and North Texas and Oklahoma.)

A sea of Pioneer Hi-Bred sorghum. Sorghum prices are up! Prepared to plant more?

I know, having a seed catalog available in August seems early. The thing is, for those of us further to the south, planting begins as early as January and grain harvest is nearly over by August. So, with plot results and field data fresh at hand, reviewing and talking about what to plant next year in late August and September is not unreasonable.

Nearly everything is here in this catalog – Corn (grain and silage), soybeans, sorghum (grain and forage), alfalfa, sunflowers, inoculants and seed treatments. Even the major crop protection products offered by Corteva Agriscience are included. Twenty pages of full bliss from an all-American company!

Side-by-side plots are the best sources for hybrid comparison data.

For students of salesmanship and marketing, I encourage you to compare the 2020 catalog to the 1946 catalog that I highlighted a few blogs ago. The formatting, photos, vernacular, etc. are quite different. Publishing styles and technologies have certainly changed over nearly 75 years – along with prices and yield.

It won’t be long before your sales representative visits again. Study the new catalog before he or she arrives. Be prepared – have your farm data available with field by field summaries if possible. Yield data from local plots may also be helpful and can be viewed at Pioneer.com (no, we don’t win them all). And don’t be afraid to ask for input from the Pioneer agronomist. Rumor has it that they’re very knowledgeable.

I want you to do well. ~ph

Please Focus!

After six years and 5,000+ followers on Twitter (of which one-fourth were women and bots who mistakenly thought agronomists were wealthy), and a change in job responsibilities, I decided it was time to refocus my energies on social media. Frankly, I wanted to separate personal life from work and give others an opportunity to step up and take the lead on providing agronomic expertise for the growers. Too, as followers grew, I found myself spending entirely too much time muting and blocking folks that were basically trolling, getting threads completely off target and otherwise wasting my time. So I shut down my main Twitter account (@texasagronomo), set up a new one for my woodworking hobby (@tejaswoodworker) and set about refocusing my role on social media platforms.


A fresh account and a fresh focus on Pioneer Hi-Bred and agronomy.

So we start anew with @Pioneeragronomo in a new job role – that as Product Agronomist covering from Oklahoma to the Rio Grande Valley. This account will continue to support Pioneer Hi-Bred (@PioneerSeeds) and Corteva AgriScience (@CortevaUS) and will focus only on agronomy. Nothing else. And, based on previous experience, I will be quicker to mute or block the drama queens and non-believers in Pioneer genetics and won’t bat an eye or lose a second of sleep in doing so.

I want you to do well. ~ph

1963 Pioneer Seed Catalog

(I enjoy history, especially that of the seed industry. Every once in a while I will scan a catalog and offer up a .PDF version for your enjoyment.)

Here is the 1963 seed catalog of Pioneer Hybrids. It was mailed to growers in a plastic mailing bag with an overall size of 6.5 inches by 9 inches. There’s a cover letter from Garst & Thomas (distributors of Pioneer seed back then) dated 1962 but the catalog actually has descriptions of products for 1963. This is due to the fact that seed is typically sold in the fall after harvest of the current year but picked up and planted the following spring.

Along with the catalog and cover letter is an information card and a plastic bag that measures 14 inches tall by 20 inches wide. The bag has a colorful farm scene printed on it and was meant to store stuff in it or even be used for freezing foods. I’ve had several folks share with me that their mom often filled this bag with baked goods and sent it off to college with them. But being a prized possession, they were instructed not to return home without it!

Of course, the catalog is important. The bag was a customer give-away that was very practical for home use but the catalog had the information growers wanted. It highlights the current hybrids that are proven as well as new hybrids that a grower might want to try on a few of his acres. You’ll find “good rules” for growing corn and sorghum on the inside back cover. Notice point 9 where the use of DDT granules is recommended for control of corn borers! (For folks not familiar, DDT was banned decades ago as a known carcinogen.)

Finally, the pages that most likely were studied more than any other in the catalog are pages 9 and 12. These are the charts that show all of the hybrids for sale in the region and various characteristics. This is where growers can see the relative maturities and whether the hybrids have the agronomic characteristics they need for their farm. Still today, these charts prompt growers to call their sales representative and ask about hybrids they’re not planting.

For an historical perspective, download the scanned items and catalog and make a side-by-side comparison with modern catalogs (younger growers will enjoy this exercise). I find it interesting to see how descriptive language has changed for the physical makeup of hybrids and agronomic characteristics. For example, “stiffness of stalks” in 1963 is now “stalk strength” in 2020. And “length of shank” is not used anymore, at least not by Pioneer.

A parting thought – like hybrids over the years, communication styles have certainly changed. In 1963, who would have thought anyone would be “blogging” about their Pioneer catalog in 2020?

I want you to do well. ~ph

P.S. Having worked in the seed business for a little over 20 years, I’ve observed seed companies transition from printed catalogs to digital catalogs and then actually do both in an attempt to reach as many people as possible on different platforms. The current thinking is that the younger generation of agricultural producers strictly use their “smart devices” (i.e., smart phones and tablets) to gather information. However, owing to the fact that a high percentage of a producers are over the age of 55, there’s still a need for printed material as this generation is mostly not interested in smart devices and navigating the internet.

It’s Just a Pencil

“It’s just a pencil,” they say.  “They,” are the ones who have no interest in understanding the history and development of not only a writing utensil but the advertisements placed thereon. For some folks, the pencil is a tool, precisely shaped and containing “lead” that is the exact hardness, or softness, for the task at hand.  They are willing to pay good money for quality and they’ll use every inch of it.  For others, it’s simply a writing instrument that can be bought in bulk and frankly couldn’t care less if it broke or was lost for eternity in the couch cushions.  For the purveyors of mechanical pencils, the smoothness of the action and an abundant supply of stick lead are the priorities.  But in today’s world of smart devices, writing instruments are falling out of favor as “notes” can now be recorded using apps or voice recognition. 

Tombow pencils featuring “high-density” graphite. 3H is the author’s preferred lead hardness for everyday writing.

Pencils were important to me early in life.  In second grade, I had an affinity for picking pencils up off the floor and putting them in my desk.  No, I didn’t bother asking my classmates if they belonged to them.  If it was on the floor, it was mine.  You might imagine a collection of pencils that filled nearly half of my desk.  My teacher noticed.  She promptly let everyone go through my desk to repossess their lost pencils.  I was devastated.  Only a handful of pencils remained in my desk.  I was sure my mother sent me to school with more than that but the argument was lost on the teacher.  Mrs. Stone was her name.  And I still have a strong dislike for her.

I’ve often wondered how modern pencils reached their exact shape and composition.  I took drafting and art in high school and quickly learned that the thickness of a drawn line matters and how the downward pressure you applied made a difference on the lifespan of the point.  This became very evident while learning shorthand.  Yes, I was the only guy in my high school class who took shorthand.  And, yes, I was faster than the girls and I took it at a rate of 110 words per minute.  PRIDE!  The thing I learned was that writing efficiency increased when you applied just enough pressure to lay the lead down thus allowing you to move the across the page quicker and easier.  (When applied to a pen, light writing pressure prevents the strokes from pushing through the paper and making it all harder to read.)

I also learned that pencils don’t really contain lead.  They may have back in the day but now they contain graphite.  If you’ve noticed over time, advertising and our day-to-day conversations have lost the word “lead” (rightfully so) and either omit it or use “graphite” in its place.  Of course, some pencils don’t contain either but those are not real pencils in the eyes of the purist; they’re something else.  Oh, the erasers might have been made of real rubber back in the day, but no more.  Now they’re made of synthetic material that doesn’t smear the graphite and last a lot longer.  Given society’s attitude toward all things disposable, you rarely find a pencil anymore with the eraser worn down to the metal ferule and replaced with a push-on pencil topper eraser.

4H is the author’s preferred hardness for marking lines on wood. Hi-polymer topper eraser by Pentel.

Advertising on pencils has also evolved.  Some of the most memorable and effective marketing was employed by Ritepoint back in the 1950s and 60s.  Ritepoint was an advertising firm based in St. Louis, Missouri, but they were notable for the way they incorporated display tops on mechanical pencils and pens.  The photo below shows several gems featuring various agricultural crops.  The clear plastic tops contained actual seeds or commodities (such as sugar on the far right) but they also used castings that simulated containers or sacks.  An example is fourth from the left which is a sack of Pioneer Hi-Bred corn seed.  You can also find ones that look like oil cans (for various petroleum companies), soft drink cans and bottles, hot dogs and concrete blocks floating in a liquid-filled top and various other items.  So cool!  Their mechanisms were relatively simple and the inside of the barrel contained a place to store sticks of lead and an eraser, both accessible by pulling the top section off. 

A collection of Ritepoint display top pencils and pens. L to R: corn, soybean, popcorn, Pioneer Hi-Bred seed sack, wheat, vegetable seed, alfalfa and sugar.

You will rarely find writing utensils designed like this today.  In my world of agribusiness, marketing strategies mostly budget for pens of various designs and colors.   They are cheaply made owing to the disposable attitude mentioned earlier as well as the marketing objective to get as many as possible in the hands of consumers.  (Why spend a lot of money on an item that will get tossed into the trash or lost in a short period of time?)  Most advertising on today’s pens is a simple print stamp that wears off easily.  Of course, you’ll only find that out if you keep it around for longer than a few weeks. 

“What about advertising on today’s pencils,” you ask?  I honestly have no idea.  Hardly anybody gives them away anymore.  Apparently, they’re made only for elementary kids who can’t be trusted with ink or keeping their hands to themselves.

I want you to do well. ~PH