Seed company growing
The Prescher-Willette Seed Farm is making some changes in their operation.
“More of our customers are buying our beans in bulk,” Damian Prescher, co-owner of the seed farm, states. “So we are adding two overhead storage bins, a new grain leg and an 80-foot truck scale to our operation.”
The overhead bins will facilitate faster filling of trucks while the scale, which is located beneath the overhead structure, will allow the semis to be weighed in the same spot they are loaded.
Damian, and his father, Chuck, purchased the Willette Seed Farm in 2005. Damian’s sister Vanessa Bromeland also works for the company.
In addition to the family members, the operation employs six other people. They are, Mike Hughes, Alan Bartholmey, Marty Ziegler, Matt Whitney, Adam Hearn and Brian Bock.
Hughes and Bartholmey are long time employees. Hughes, the plant manager, started with the seed farm in 1974 and Bartholmey, who is the mechanic of the operation, joined the company the following year.
While Chuck and his wife, Corrine, reside in Blue Earth. Damian lives in a house located on the seed farm building site. Damian and his wife, Tina, have twin daughters, Addison and Erin, who are almost 11 years old, son Ames, who is six years old and another daughter, Eliza, who is three years old.
Operating the seed farm is not just as simple as harvesting the beans, putting them in a bin and then loading them out.
Both seed beans and edible soybeans are processed and conditioned at the seed farm.
Most of the beans grown for the seed farm are produced within a 20-mile radius of the farm, which is located south of Delavan.
There is a four-step process that the soybeans go through to remove pods, splits, weed seed, small and large beans and discolored beans.
Much of that process has remained the same over many years. However there is one machine, an optical sorting machine, that is new to the process. This machine can look at 500,000 beans a minute as they flow through a channel. The optical sorting machine uses a precise jet of air to remove any discolored beans.
Damian Prescher explains “Uniformity is important to our customers and all of these things are done for appearance, so that the consumer receives beans that are the same size, shape, color and weight.”
Everything they clean gets tested by a third-party lab, according to Hughes. In addition the food grade beans go through seven additional food safety tests including tests for salmonella and e-coli.
“There is rarely any problem with raw soybeans because the crop is not irrigated,” Hughes says. “Many of the problems which have occurred with lettuce and other vegetable crops have happened because the source of their irrigation water was contaminated.”
The Prescher-Willette Seed Farm ships their edible beans all over the United States including Washington, California, Texas, Georgia, Virginia, Illinois and Hawaii. Their clients sell the beans as sprouting beans.
The Prescher-Willette Seed Farm began operating during the Great Depression.
Don Willette established Willette Seed Farm in 1933. In the early years seed production was mainly small grains and flax. Later, production grew to include seed corn and soybeans.
During the 1960s the day-to-day operation of the business transitioned to Don’s four sons, Mike, Pierre, Tom and Jan. In addition to the seed farm, they were also involved with feeding hogs, along with dairy and beef cows.
The 1970s saw a decreased demand for oats and wheat but an increase in the production of soybeans. Large scale production and exporting soybean seed to Europe began.
Export business continued to grow during the 1980s with all the varieties being non-GMO, (genetically modified organism). In 1989 Willette Seed Farm joined with other family owned seed conditioning plants to establish Gold Country Seed. University breeding of new soybean varieties had become targeted towards specific-use niche varieties.
In 1996 Round-Up-Ready soybeans became available. This was the beginning of the end for public varieties. Universities continued to focus on non-GMO soybeans while the private breeders concentrated their efforts on herbicide tolerant traits. Eventually this led to farmers being unable to save their own seed for planting during the next crop year.
The 2000s saw privately developed GMO varieties dominate the seed industry. The exportation of soybean seed to Europe disappeared over fears of accidental introduction of GMO varieties. The market for identity-preserved, non-GMO soybeans emerged. Prescher-Willette Seed Farm continues to produce these varieties for human consumption.
According to Hughes, the company continues to grow, clean, package and ship both non-GMO and GMO soybeans
They have custom seed production and processing clients that include the University of Minnesota, Asgrow, AgriPro, Stine, Monsanto and Gold Country.