Sands of Iowa Ag Services
John Sand founded Sands of Iowa Ag Services (SOI), then known as John Sand & Sons, in 1932 as a small, independent seed sales operation. He began catering to local farmers around the company’s headquarters in northwest Iowa. John built up a market through aggressive promotion of the company’s seed products, building a following of local growers. In 1947, John and his team built the company’s first seed conditioning plant.
Eventually, John’s son Merle took over the business. Throughout his time at SOI, Merle saw the business grow through various stages. In 1972, the company built the region’s first independent concrete grain storage and load-out elevator; the elevator expanded over the following years. In 1980, the company launched its own in-house brand of soybean seeds, SOI Brand Seed. That component of the business grew rapidly locally, as well as through a network of distributors and dealers.
SOI has evolved significantly over the years. Merle’s sons, Chuck and Ed Sand, as well as daughter Kathy “Sand” Ogren, now operate the business along with many longtime employees. Additionally, John oversees the farming operation.
“I was called home from college to help with the family business in 1961,” Chuck recounts. “I was 19 years old.” Chuck’s experience spans more than 50 years, lending a unique level of expertise in agricultural products and service.
Maintaining a solid niche
While much has changed over the years for SOI, the company maintains a focus on a successful product line: seeds. The team offers a variety of soybean, corn and alfalfa seeds, as well as specialty seeds and related products. The team strives to meet the demands of customers, adding and removing products based on market movement and innovation.
The company has contracts with local growers and genetic suppliers. Many of these local customers are second or third generation growers, whom SOI has worked with for decades. “We bring in the seed, condition it and sell it to growers in about a 150-mile radius,” says Chuck. “We have a few brands of our own and we also condition for other companies.”
SOI’s agronomy division is dedicated to providing customers with the best possible options for trait and technologies through two seed corn brands. The company’s sales team offers seed corn products through Hoegemeyer Hybrids and Dekalb.
With changing weather patterns resulting in difficult growing seasons, SOI helps farmers assess and adapt to these changes, which allows growers to better plan and plant crops for the season ahead. The company also offers two traits, LibertyLink and Roundup Ready, in both corn and soybean products to fit with growers’ varying herbicide programs.
SOI’s grain division continues to lead the business as far as volume and revenue go. “Most of our grain for corn ends up in ethanol plants,” Chuck explains. In western Iowa, we have a lot of ethanol plants. We have one about 2 miles away, another 30 miles and another 40 miles away. Our soybeans all go to processors in the area.”
To keep up with growth, the team built a second grain facility in 2012 that holds approximately 1 million bushels. “We can unload a semi-truck in four minutes,” Chuck elaborates. “That one is constructed of steel. We have another elevator that is concrete and has a capacity of 1.4 million bushels. Most new facilities are steel, though. We started a new facility, so we have two separate dump areas for grain; one is on the rail and one is not. This expansion helps us unload grain at harvest time much faster, and allows our customers a very efficient turnaround time.”
Chuck explains that the obstacles his team faces are not significantly different from others in the agricultural industry. “Every year we overcome a lot of challenges,” he elaborates. “You have to look at them as opportunities. That’s just part of the business. We deal with changing weather, supply chain shortages and commodities pricing.” He says the company’s diversification has helped see SOI through rough patches. When one division of the business is slow, others will often pick up.
“Interest rates have been lucrative in recent years,” he adds. “Our farmer customers have had a fairly decent past five years. If you’re a livestock feeder, grain going down is a benefit; if you’re a grain farmer, it is a detriment and it just depends on your niche. One of the biggest fears I have is that the price of land is high today. That will continue to be an issue for growers.” Chuck also has concerns about the aging out of farm operators.
Still, SOI remains steady. Chuck and his team have a strong sense of dedication to the community. “We want to be a good community partner and we want to give our customers good service,” he explains. “We also want to continue to feel like our employees are part of our family.” He credits his team for much of the business’ success and growth over the years. Chuck is confident that with their support, Sands of Iowa Ag Services will be able to continue providing high-quality products and services to local growers.