It's not often that a farmer starts his own seed company, but for Bart Hajovsky, founder and president of B-H Genetics in South Texas, operating a new start-up farm was just a stepping stone to something bigger, though he didn't realize it at the time.
After establishing the new farm with no farming experience, Hajovsky experienced great success before being convinced to contract his services off the farm with Asgrow Seed Company, a relationship that led to meeting many researchers and seed experts, people he credits with providing a great education on what makes a seed a better seed. Eventually, he, Asgrow Seed, and Dekalb Seed were integrated after merging with Monsanto, and his education grew rapidly after working with top researchers there.
In 1998 he and wife Karen decided to use what he had learned and kicked off a new business venture, what has grown into B-H Genetics, a seed company with an impressive growth rate and a very hopeful future.
The company has grown from a regional seed supplier serving mostly South Texas to a national seed genetics and distribution company, expanding a regional operation to reach new customers on both the East and West coasts with diverse offerings of proprietary seeds.
"The lights came on for me one day during a Monsanto event when I realized that when it comes to seeds it's all about the genetics. That was my topic after being chosen to participate in the debate. I told a large crowd of industry and company experts that I believed the chemicals will follow the seed; the seed shouldn't follow the chemicals. I realized this was a universal truth and the way new seeds should be developed. This was the basis on which we established our new seed company. Soon afterward we started selling seeds to South Texas farmers as a new company and we have grown ever since," Hajovsky said.
At a time when many of the major players in the seed business are talking mergers and consolidation, Hajovsky believes his success and growth, even during hard times—like the present—is rooted in staying focused on genetics.
"I would say our ability to stay strong is because we have remained focused on genetics. I mean traits are important, how you distribute seed is important, how you price and market seed is important, but it doesn't matter whether it is corn, cotton, wheat or sorghum, in the end, it's all about the genetics. It helps to have a hybrid with the right traits, but we have access to new traits and still focus on our genetics," he says.
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“Our job is to use the best seed traits, but also to focus on the other half of the story, and offer the best in both traits and solid genetics as we strive to serve our customer base. An average seed with good traits is still just an average seed. We strive to make the seed better and give it the best traits possible,” he said.
Travis Janak, a former Texas AgriLife Extension agronomist, is part of the team at B-H Genetics. He says he was impressed with Hajovsky's unique method of team building and the company's growth and track record.
"Bart put the best products in his bag when he started and has managed to build an impressive team of researchers and advisers and marketers, and that has played an important role in his success. He is a great manager and a solid leader, and it takes that to keep a good company going," Janak said.
He thinks it also helps to be an independent company. That gives B-H Genetics the flexibility to adjust to a farmer's specific needs.
“We can be more flexible in offering products to our line that are specific to the area and environment where a farm is located. I believe we have an advantage by starting as a regional seed company that developed seed based upon a specific region,” Janak said, an objective that remains a priority for B-H researchers.
"This gives us an edge dealing with farmers on a regional level, understanding problems specific to their geography and environment and offering the best seeds to meet their requirements," he adds.
But it hasn't stopped the company from expanding into new regions. Janak says it's not unusual to receive phone calls from interested customers who have heard about their products and services by word of mouth. The company is now serving farmers in the High Plains, on the Eastern seaboard and as far west as California.
"We sell silage corn in California, have a customer base in the High Plains and north into Kansas, and we have expanded into the deep South in recent years,” Janak said, and added that B-H Genetics is capable of expanding beyond the regions they are currently serving.
He says the company's growth has been measured, but recently demand for their product has exploded in new areas, like the Carolinas. Still, they have never lost sight of their objective to serve farmers as if they were close neighbors.
Hajovsky agrees. He says by being selective when it comes to building the right team, he makes certain that serving his customer base comes first.
"From research to aggressive testing of our products, we do everything as if our customer were our neighbor on the farm next door. The goal is to provide a personalized service specific to each customer. It makes us work harder and gives us an advantage when it comes to retaining customers. We have been selling some farmers for the past 18 years, and that's important," he said.
The company relies on research to develop the best seed varieties, and Hajovsky says only after exhaustive tests in different areas and environments can they be confident they are offering seeds that will perform the best.
"It's a difficult time across the industry right now, and there is so much talk about mergers and consolidations and the stressed ag economy as a result of low prices. But it's not the first time agriculture has seen tough times, and it probably won't be the last. But our core values haven't changed. We're not cutting any corners. Maintaining a high level of service and moving forward with our research and products remains a priority as we strive to serve customers who depend on us," Hajovsky said.