Beck’s, partner developing multi-hybrid planter

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Hamilton County-based Beck’s Hybrids has quietly become the sixth-largest retail seed company in the country—making waves in an industry dominated by multinational corporations despite its limited geographic reach.

The family-owned company has about 1 million square feet under roof at its headquarters along 276th Street north of Arcadia, and grows almost all the seed corn it supplies to farmers in portions of eight Midwestern states. And it's still growing. (Find our April 2 online story here, this week's print story here, and a photo gallery here.)

Farming can be a tough row to hoe, but technology helps.

So-called precision agriculture techniques allows farmers to eliminate some of the guesswork, for example, using data to “prescribe” specific plantings and treatments with amazing accuracy. GPS-equipped tractors and combines even can steer themselves.

Now Beck’s is working to make sure they make the most of such modern advantages.

“We like to lead,” said third-generation company President Sonny Beck, whose grandfather, Lawrence, and father, Francis, founded Beck’s Hybrids in 1937.

One work-in-progress project, dubbed Farm Server, would help farmers analyze and act on the reams of data they collect every year, Beck said.

Beck’s also is collaborating with farm-equipment maker Kinze Manufacturing Inc. to develop a planter capable of sowing two different hybrid seeds on a single pass through the field. By planting the seed that’s the best fit for a given soil type or topographical condition, the theory goes, farmers can improve their likelihood of success.

Four of the Kinze planters have hit the fields to date; Beck’s is using three of them, and the manufacturer is testing the other. Mass production should start next year, Sonny Beck said.

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