DeLange Seed Inc.
Founded in 1970, DeLange Seed Inc. is a family-owned seed company serving retail and wholesale customers across 20 states with superior crop and field seed production, conditioning, distribution and a level of customer service unmatched by larger national competitors.
Headquartered in Girard, Kansas, DeLange operates satellite offices in Sedgwick and Maize, Kansas, giving the company a strong geographical footprint across southern and eastern reaches of the state and into Missouri and Oklahoma.
DeLange’s stable of crop seed includes hybrid corn, hybrid grain sorghum, annual forages, soybeans, sunflowers wheat and alfalfa. Turf grasses produced by the company range from tall fescue and perennial ryegrass to Kentucky bluegrass, creeping red fescue and Bermuda grass.
In addition to crop and field seeds, DeLange also offers turf grasses, bird seeds, wildflowers and wildlife habitat and forage seeds, including native grasses, cereals, clovers and legumes.
“We try to handle everything and be a full-service seed house,” says Steve Ahring, sales and operations manager at DeLange. “There are only a handful of us left.”
While DeLange can source almost any crop or field seeds for its roster of clients, the company has purposely kept a narrow focus to help ensure the highest possible level of quality and service. “We handle about any crop or field seed in Kansas, but we don’t sell herbicide or fertilizer; it’s strictly seed,” Ahring says.
The company has kept out of herbicides and fertilizers, but DeLange does sell seed treatment and inoculants, including Verdesian’s line of legume inoculation and N-Dure humus treatment for soybeans.
Sowing superior service
Certified wheat represents a small but vital part of DeLange’s business — “Especially from a cash flow standpoint,” says Ahring. “We retail and we also have a dealer network for certified seed but we move a larger volume through the dealer trader than we do retail.”
KY31 tall fescue grass is the product that really drives sales at the company. “KY31 has been our biggest crop by volume; we process several million pounds annually depending on the year and the crop,” he says.
Tall fescue grasses like KY31 are a cool-season perennial with a high tolerance for heat and soil conditions that make them perfectly suited for the Kansas climate. KY31 has emerged as a popular choice for both forage and turf applications due to its ability to adapt to poor soil conditions, including thin, acidic and alkaline soils. The deep roots and durable nature of KY31 make the seed particularly well suited for application in high-traffic areas, including athletic fields, parks and highway plantings.
While DeLange carries a wide range of products, Ahring is careful to note that the company stands behind every seed it offers with the highest level of expertise and understanding. “We’re not like a Wal-Mart or something, we actually know and understand the process and our products,” he says.
It is this level of service and expertise that has allowed DeLange to stack up against its largest competitors. “At a lot of co-ops, unless you go in and ask for it, you would never know they have certain products, but we are out there promoting the products and how to use them,” says Ahring.
“Everyone likes to say they’ve got better service, but that’s really what we try to offer,” says Darrin DeLange, owner and chief operating officer at DeLange. The second-generation owner of the company emphasizes DeLange’s strong relationships and local expertise as major selling points over larger national competitors.
“Our seed products are designed for our area, so we know better what local farmers need on their farms,” he says. The company also maintains acres of research plots throughout the state to ensure that products will meet performance expectations. “They reflect what we see here in our part of the country,” DeLange says.
A majority of DeLange’s seed crops are produced under contract in partnership with a tried-and-true stable of growers in south-central and southeastern Kansas, while the company sources alfalfa and grasses from the Pacific Northwest and summer annuals and millet out of Texas. “It depends on the crop,” says Ahring. “We do a lot of grass seed and a lot of forage, but we don’t produce all of them ourselves.”
Starting from seed
When DeLange opened its doors in 1970 under the leadership of founder Howard DeLange, the company was just a small seed operation serving local farmers and growers with Korean lespedeza and KY31 tall fescue. Howard soon diversified the company’s portfolio of seed to include a wider variety of crop seed, a decision that helped the company grow into the regional provider it is today.
While Howard has slowly begun to ease into retirement in recent years, the next generation of DeLanges, led by son Darrin, is stepping in to help guide the family business into the future. The company now employs 20 people, including two trained agronomists.
DeLange’s facilities include two seed conditioning plants in Girard and Sedgwick, allowing the company to quickly process and clean seeds on the way to market, as well as a small country elevator in Maize. In addition to the seed production and conditioning side of the business, DeLange runs a fleet of 12 distribution vehicles under the name DeLange Truck Lines. “Most of their time is spent hauling grain, but they also do a lot of trucking for seed companies and deliveries to dealers,” he says.
Access to top-quality genetics is among the biggest challenges facing modern seed companies, according to Ahring. “If you can’t sell your customers what they need or what works best, they are going to go elsewhere to find it, so you have to have access to genetics,” he says.
With larger multinational companies carving out a larger portion of the once-regional seed market every year, this sort of access can be difficult to ensure. “They have a lot more money to go out and play with and a lot of times they’re preaching to customers that they’ve got more research to back it up, which they don’t,” says DeLange.
While the influx of multinationals has inevitably changed the market, it hasn’t all been for the worse. “Up until this point in the wheat industry, the participation of the private sector and multinationals has been positive. They’ve contributed a lot of resources into the development and marketing of these products,” says Ahring. “The real concern as certified seed growers is the limitation of access to genetics. If they get something that is really terrific they can pick and choose winners; it’s not like a public variety that everyone can access.”
The constant introduction of new products into the market can also be overwhelming for farmers and growers, but DeLange prides itself on its ability to cut through the noise and deliver only the most battle-tested products to its customers.
“New technology and new varieties are always seen as being superior. Some companies we partner with come out with new products every year, but some of the new products are not as good as what was out there,” says Ahring.
DeLange itself has been mindful not to fall into the trap of embracing every new product that comes down the pipe. “You can have a variety that you sell tremendous volume of one year and then it falls out of favor, so managing your production is a real issue for companies like us. If you grow the wrong product or grow too much of it, it takes all the fun out of it and it can become a non-profitable situation pretty quickly,” Ahring says.
As DeLange continues to grow, the company is looking to work more with university and industry groups, such as the Kansas Crop Improvement Association (KCIA), to improve the certification process for seeds. “Certification is a wonderful tool that alleviates some of the risk and liability if everything has been inspected and checked and the lab results are on file. Plus it just means something to the customer to have that blue tag on their seed,” says Ahring.
DeLange is eager to keep pace with the fast-moving agriculture industry and will continue to integrate new technologies into the business as best practices emerge, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the customer. “It’s nice to see that you can get a good product to a customer and see that they benefit,” says DeLange.
As a trusted name in the Kansas seed production, conditioning and distribution market, DeLange Seed Inc. will remain a leading provider of crop and field seeds, turf grasses and forage seeds for years to come.