Seeds of Success

1. What is the history and mission of Great Lakes Hybrids?

Great Lakes Hybrids goes back to 1921 when a Michigan farm family in Fairgrove started saving seed, processing it and reselling it to local farmers.  Later, in 1964, a group of Michigan farmers raising seed joined together to Great Lakes Hybrids.  We sold Michigan Certified Hybrids until 1978, when we began to sell our own line of hybrid corn and soybean seed. Today, Great Lakes Hybrids is part of the fourth largest seed breeding organization in the world, AgReliant Genetics.  Our market area covers nine Midwestern states from South Dakota to Ohio and Michigan to Kentucky.

2. What trends have you observed in the industry?

The advent of biotechnology has dramatically changed our industry.  For many years there were around 300 seed corn companies in the United States.  Today the number of companies is shrinking, and the industry is shifting to fewer and larger companies.

3. How will the push for biofuels impact your company?

Biofuels have affected us greatly, especially this past year.  With more and more ethanol plants coming online, the need for corn to fuel them has increased corn acreage in the U.S. to over 93 million acres.  This is a 19 percent increase in acreage in one year and one of the largest acreage planted to corn for over 50 years.

4. How has Great Lakes Hybrids grown and evolved?

We have grown from five employees and $1,000,000 in sales to 54 employees and sales of $36,000,000 today.

5. Has the company won any awards or recognition recently?

Our advertising recently won the Public Relations Society of American Award of Excellence for Internal Communications and the Pinnacle Award for Marketing Business to Business.  Our advertising agency is Pace and Partners in Lansing.

6. How many employees do you have? Are they based in Ovid?

We have 70 employees, 18 of those are stationed in Ovid and the rest are in the states we market in.

7. How would you describe the agriculture industry in Michigan?

Today, I would say it is one of the bright spots in the Michigan economy.  A year ago we had only one ethanol plant in the state.  Today we have three up and running, three under construction, and three in the planning stages.  All of them will be a big contributor to the Michigan farm economy.

8. Some consumers express concern about genetically engineered products. How would you respond to these concerns?

I think the companies that have developed genetically engineered products have done a good job of studying the safety of those products.  In many cases, I believe that the engineered product offers opportunity for increased food safety due to control of diseases and pests in the field and lowering the use of dangerous chemicals.

9. What does the future hold for Great Lakes Hybrids? Do you have plans for future expansion and growth?

We are a growing company.  With Michigan as our headquarters, we have very ambitious plans for this state, but we plan to grow in all our market areas.  In 2007, we are adding three additional salespeople and one new agronomist to our staff.  Each year, we have been adding to our sales staff, and our market share growth is the result.

10. What would you like the general business community to know about your industry?

The seed industry is a growing and vibrant industry.  Companies who have an active and effective research and development program will be the survivors and will be able to take advantage of the opportunities for growth.  Like most businesses today, growth will come to those who are ready for change and can learn how to quickly adapt to those changes.

 

Author: Kate Carolan Reed
Photography: Terri Shaver

 

Name: Mike Stephenson

Title: General Manager

Company: Great Lakes Hybrids

Number of years employed at company:  Has been with Great Lakes Hybrids for 28 years, and in the seed industry for 44 years.

Family:  Wife, three daughters and one stepson.

Resides:  Eagle, Michigan

Community involvement:  Active in seed industry associations and local church.

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