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

Seed Corn Prices of 1947

A trip back in time gives us this glimpse of a promotional mailer from the Reist Seed Company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Costing the company 2 cents to mail, it’s basically a simple fold of a card-stock quality of paper with black ink and a red seal. Nothing special. And it includes the actual seed prices. That kind of information today, in the year 2020, is a guarded secret. Competitive intel like that, especially if discovered early in the sales season, causes marketing specialists to drool on themselves. This particular one is dated August 15th. Announcing prices in August would be extraordinarily early for any of today’s seed corn companies.

“Free” cotton bags (1 bushel capacity) were an enticement. Certainly reusable and environmentally friendly.

Notice that both open pollinated varieties and hybrids were available, but at a price difference of roughly $3 per bushel sack of seed. It was well established by the mid-1940s that significant yield increases could be realized planting hybrid seed. Perhaps the adoption curve was not quite as strong in some regions so both types were still offered after WWII. Also of interest is the availability of “early husking” varieties (this would likely include existing hybrids that have the characteristics that make an ear of corn suitable for hand husking, such as high ear placement, excellent standability and loose husks).

Lastly, the offering of formaldehyde and tobacco dust can not go unnoticed. These types of “pesticides” seem foreign today but are unique to an era that was growing by leaps and bounds in the post-war era and did so without much government oversight. I must admit, however, that I have no idea how one applies tobacco dust!

So many folks came before us. In reverence, I always find it fascinating to look back and study the progression of technology.

I want you to do well. ~ph