Jeff Shaner Jeff Shaner

Asking For The Extraordinary


One night this summer during a product note-taking trip to Sikeston, MO., our restaurant dinner table was next to a piano; one of those pianos that sits in a corner and you just know it never gets played. The waitress was a young lady of approximate college age and just because I’m an instigator, I asked if she would play us a song. “Oh, I can play piano, but I’m not sure I should do that. It might bother the other folks. ”  

Our group of four had a good meal and I don’t give up that easily, so when she came to clear the table I smiled and tried it again. “C’mon, please play a song for us.” She looked around, shrugged and said “I guess I can do that for you. Here’s one most people seem to know. ” From the moment she played those first notes with sweeping, polished hand movements, it was obvious that not only could she play piano: she was a great pianist. Then she started to sing, and she had the voice to match. How awesome is this?! We were absolutely floored as we were treated to a shortened yet hauntingly stunning version of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Two things occurred to me:

1) We had an experience unlike anyone else who eats at that restaurant. One we would not have had if we had not asked for it.

2) You can ask all you want, but only a few people have the ability to deliver those kind of results, and boy did she ever!

Each year in my travels, I meet AgVenture customers who are having a better cropping experience than many other farmers in that very same region. The reason for it stands out immediately. While an average producer will typically ask his/her seed supplier to give them a good product at the lowest possible price, these farming high-achievers have an AgVenture Yield Specialist as their teammate to help them reap a stunning result. That’s point #1: you have to be willing to ask for more. What a thing of beauty it is when they are able to deliver.

Ken and Kenny Schlemmer (father and son) are from eastern Indiana and have just experienced some of their best crops ever while partnering with Chad Ealing from AgVenture McKillip Seed in Wabash, IN. Ben Farmingwell (Not his real name. Ben has business relationships away from the farm with other ag entities. We’re helping to not alienate any customers for him.) is a respected northern Illinois farmer and businessman known for coaxing the most out of a crop year. He works closely with Todd Ashpole from AgVenture Pinnacle in Princeton, IL. None of these individuals wanted a spotlight on them with this story that would look like they were bragging or in need of attention. We love humble people, so with that in mind I had a few questions for them.

What are the goals you are working toward for your farming operation?

Ken & Kenny: Looking ahead, we have made, and want to continue making progress on stand establishment. 70-80% of your final yield is probably determined the day you plant. This is eastern cornbelt farming over here. These tough old lake bed soils can be adversarial to work with. AgVenture seed quality standards are higher than industry standards, and we’ve found that to be one of the difference makers in our operation. It’s no small thing. The more we hear people discussing their results around this part of the state, it is evident that we have exceeded the norm. That’s our goal: farming in such a way that we continue to push above the mean.

Ben: 300 bushel corn, year in and year out. It’s just in my nature to be competitive with myself. We’re not there yet, but every year we’re making the adjustments that move us in the right direction. I have to tell you, I’m blessed. I have experienced and reliable helpers employed here that I can count on to treat my farms like their own. Couple that with the improvements we are seeing in genetics, and I’m confident sustained results at that level are attainable.

How has your AgVenture Yield Specialist had a hand in that?

Ben: Todd pushes me constantly, always asking “Ben, have you considered this?” Or telling me, “I’ve seen good results doing this.” There have been times where I’ve wondered if he thought I was doing anything right!  But Todd has a wealth of experience in the seed industry, and he has been a reliable resource to me for years. Best of all, I can trust what he has to say. Every now and then a product may let me down…that happens at some point with every seed company. We don’t sugarcoat it. We make honest assessments and chart a course to do better next year. I need that kind of integrity from the people I include in my inner circle. Practices Todd and I have instituted way back when are still paying off across all my acres year after year.

Ken & Kenny: Chad is the kind of guy who gets emotionally invested in a crop. We’ve found that to be a true asset. So many seed dealers take an order, deliver it, then show up after harvest to see how we did. Chad is here numerous times throughout the growing season, and the rest of the year too. We plan product placement strategies, in-season management of the crop, even harvest prioritization of the different farms. His knowledge of the AgVenture line-up and how to use it over our varying farms goes way beyond what is typical for the industry.

Name a few changes recently that have brought progress for you.

Ken & Kenny: Tillage. We are doing our best to stay off of the seed bed with fewer equipment passes. Adjustments are being made on what operations can be done in the fall versus the spring, and what passes can be combined or skipped altogether. Developing a compaction layer does more to inhibit yield than most people are willing to concede. We use Delta Force and I have to tell you, that program exposes every soil sin you’ve ever committed out in the field. Throw in there this Pythium seedling complex we are fighting each spring in this region, we’re finding that the AgVenture Security™ seed treatment package coupled with our in-field activities are making a more comfy root zone for plant development.

Ben: Tile and technology. Both of my parents passed in the 90s. When I bought the farm, I didn’t shortchange the rest of the family, paying a firm price for my ground. Even so, I’ve invested in about $40,000 worth of tile here. It is imperative; you have to be able to control water. A spring and summer like the ones we just had brought the kind of moisture that can injure a crop. This has been money well spent. Along with that, precision farming software is giving me real time information that eliminates guesswork.  Harvest is the report card on how my crop plan and in-season decisions paid off. Todd can track my progress too, through the programs I use. He may be in the next county with another customer, yet I know he is still invested each day with what I am experiencing here.  

Alright, change of pace here. What are your interests away from the workday?

Ben: It is really one of my great joys in life to improve the wellbeing of all of us. I do that locally in my community through several organizations including Lions Club, plus I am also involved at the county level too. The only competitor I struggle against is me. Everyone else I’ll work with to move us all forward.

Ken: I have been immersed in agriculture from a very young age. This farming operation has been my life. I missed a lot of Kenny’s school activities and such through the years to make this thing go. I do however, enjoy IU basketball games.

Kenny: OK, so we reeeeally enjoy IU basketball! (We reminisce about Keith Smart’s shot, and of course the entertainment value of high profile coaches throwing chairs across the gym). I take ATV trips with friends too that are pretty adventurous events. West Virginia by ATV is incredible.

What did I miss that you want people to know?

Ken & Kenny: This local product selection initiative is highly valuable. The McKillip family members are top farmers themselves with generations of knowledgeable leadership in their ranks. When Chad comes to me with a portfolio, I know that his AgVenture Regional Seed Company partners have proven these hybrids and varieties on their own operation too.

Ben: Information is available from so many sources, and I probably use them all at times. Todd is of course a valuable resource to me. In particular, I watch other farmers who I know are progressively pushing to accomplish more on their own farms. You’re talking to me for this article because people have taken note of the success we’re having. I’m taking note of others. Typical isn’t good enough here.

In your quest to achieve better results, have you asked for more from your seed supplier? Be an instigator…try asking an AgVenture Yield Specialist.

Jeff Shaner

About the Author

Jeff Shaner

Jeff’s breadth and depth of experience over 20+ years helps him keep AgVenture’s market position well ahead of the technological curve. What he learns from agronomists and visits to seed-producer plots equip him to find the best soybean varieties for our farmers.

“Our goal is to build a custom product lineup for Regional Seed Companies so they can better serve farmer needs.”