For more than 30 years, Phillips Seed in the Central Kansas Corridor has been serving the varying needs of growers with high-quality seeds bred for durability. With strong partnerships with suppliers and customers as well as leading in-house research and development capabilities, Phillips Seed is the supplier of choice for wheat, soy and corn producers in a 300-mile-wide swath of farmland stretching between Kansas’s Oklahoma and Nebraska borders.
Eric Woofter, general manager of Phillips Seed, has been with the business for four years. His background in agriculture spans more than a decade and that wealth experience guides his leadership decisions. “Don Phillips started this company as a small seed-cleaning business,” he recounts of Phillips Seed’s early years. “That grew to wheat, then certified wheat, then beans and cleaning beans. Eventually he built a new facility and into that grew a full line of products with a sales staff and more conditioning equipment.”
Though Don died in 2010, remaining team members maintain the family atmosphere and commitment to growers he instilled in the business from day one. “We have grown since ownership changed,” Woofter notes. “But Don left us in great shape.”
Maintaining an effective niche
With just under 20 employees, Phillips Seed maintains a family feel while holding the capacity to serve growers with innovative seed products and services. Most of the company’s staff is concentrated in production, though management, sales and administration keep the operation running smoothly and profitably. “We try to be a family,” notes Woofter. “We are small enough that we know what is going on in each other’s lives, but big enough with 15 to 20 employees that we can operate as a midsized company.”
Small size and a capacity for continued innovation combined to make Phillips Seed a preferred partner for area growers. Relationships in the agriculture industry are crucial and the company’s reputation for quality sets it apart from competitors. “Our dealers and customers are all relationship-built first,” says Woofter. “We use dealers from local cooperatives to individual farmers.” Phillips Seed is a member business of the Kansas Crop Improvement Association and Woofter regards that relationship critical as well. He has been involved with the association for his entire career, spanning more than 25 years.
The business has established a niche in performing genetic research, testing and development of highly resistant soybean, corn and wheat seeds, custom-created to fit the needs of growers in the geographic region. Between a network of growing partners spread across a 150-mile radius from the company’s headquarters, Phillips Seed produces approximately 10,000 acres a year. These partnerships offer capacity and reduce risk for the business, which supplies not only its own brand but those of several multinational agriculture brands.
In reference to the team’s partnerships with major companies, Woofter confirms: “Yes, we compete with our suppliers. We believe that the major companies cannot carry all of the genetics that will work in an area.” Seed development is a complex science and custom-development poses a major challenge for larger suppliers and distributors.
“Part of our continuing growth is to try to find precision ag that will provide value to customers,” Woofter adds. “It is a tremendous amount of work trying to figure out where to reinvest our money to get the best bang for the buck for the farmers. We seek out benefits of technology, precision ag and by testing different genetics and traits. We analyze and analyze all the time.”
New challenges every day
When dealing in seed genetics, the challenges are endless and vary day to day. In order to succeed in the industry, a company has to be able to manage the balancing act. For Woofter, the daily juggle involves inventory management — bringing in new products and determining which seeds are not performing. “The constant turn of genetics is our greatest concern,” he explains. “To give you an example, my grandfather probably planted the same variety of wheat for 15 years. Now the life expectancy is under five for a good variety and some don’t last a year.”
Looking ahead, Phillips Seed is planning for an accelerated rate of turnover. “We have to be amped up to be able to supply newer genetics than we currently do, so we have to increase our volume,” he says. “The first day of harvest we start cleaning wheat and we don’t stop until we are done. We are at full capacity most of the time, so the question is: how do we get more out of a shorter amount of time?”
Parallel to these plans, educating customers about genetics is a continued priority. Ensuring that farmers understand how seed varieties fit into their acreage and how Phillips Seed can improve efficiency and yield is crucial to the business’ continued growth.
With these goals and the systems to meet them in place, Phillips Seed is slated to remain a leader in the Kansas seed market for years to come.