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Axtell business ships organic seed and grain products worldwide
For decades now, the trend in agriculture has been toward consolidation of acreage, larger and larger machinery, and fewer and fewer people on the land. In the face of this mega-competition, smaller, family-owned farms are at a competitive disadvantage. Most have a harder time making ends meet with each passing year.
But Joe and Leisha Roberts, owners of Roberts Seed, Inc., near Axtell, Neb., have discovered an answer to the farmer’s perennial question: how to make a living on the farm without farming more land.
“I wasn’t farming enough land to be successful,” Joe says. “I needed to get more efficient and add value to the grain I was producing.”
So Joe and Leisha have gone organic.
A seed cleaning legacy
Growing up on a farm, Joe acquired among many things, a curious mind and an interest and ability in mechanics. He learned about cleaning grain from watching his uncle who harvested, cleaned and sold wheat seed.
In 1987 Joe and Leisha bought grain cleaning equipment and entered the grain cleaning business. Both seed grains and food grains undergo a cleaning process where the grains are sifted through screens to separate different sizes and shapes, and passed over a vibrating belt to remove dust, debris and stones.
Joe has an instinct for trends and opportunities, and when a local farmer asked him to clean an organically grown grain to be sold on the organic market, it got him thinking.
He explored the certification process, spoke with organic farmers, researched the organic grain market, and recognized a trend and an opportunity.
But not without growing the enterprise. “In order to make it pay, I needed to buy bigger and better equipment,” Joes said. Joe and Leisha completed the certification process in 1991 and bought a new air-screen cleaner, destoner and gravity table, along with a system of belt conveyors, a roll-sorter, color-sorter, length grader, polisher and spiral — everything he need for cleaning, packaging and shipping organic grain and seed.
Roberts Seed offers a variety of products directed at different markets.
- Barley and hulless barley
- Corn – yellow, white, red and blue
- Edible beans – red kidney, great northern, pinto, small reds, and black turtle
- Milo (grain sorghum), white and red
- Popcorn – yellow and white
- Wheat – HRW & HRSW and white wheat
The company also has available organic alfalfa (bales and pellets), stoneground wheat flour, soymeal, feed soy beans and edible bean splits.
An expanding market
Joe Roberts believes the organic market is expanding.
“Organic is the fastest growing segment of the farm market,” he says. “People are choosing to buy fresh, local foods, grown without pesticides, insecticides and chemical fertilizers.”
Roberts’ certified organic and non-GMO grain and grain related products are destined for food, feed and seed markets around the world. Soy products usually are shipped to tofu factories; wheat goes to organic poultry producers and bread bakers. Corn is made into organic corn chips or feed for organically-raised beef, pork or chickens.
“Marketing seeds and organically grown grains is a great part of what we do,” says Joe. “We ship by train or truck, and we purchase and package grain for shipping in containers.”
The Roberts envision a future in which farmers can stay on the farm, intensively managing fewer acres yet making a living because prices are higher for organically- certified grains and livestock.
“We have work ahead of us,” Joe says. “People are finally thinking about what they are eating and many of them don’t want their food sprayed with petroleum-based chemicals.”
Organic farming isn’t easy by any means. But as Joe and Leisha Roberts prove, it’s one more way to live on the land – and still make a living.
Who To Contact...
Roberts Seed Inc.
Joe and Leisha Roberts
982 22 Road
Axtell, NE 68924