Soybeans expert and D.F. Seeds founder John Diehl received the 2018 Leaders and Legends award from the Michigan Agri-Business Association in Lansing recently for a lifetime of achievements that have helped boost the state’s agricultural industry.
Diehl, 71, was presented with the award on Saturday at the association’s 2018 outlook conference held on Mackinac Island. The Leaders and Legends Award has been given out annually since 2013 by the association to honor individuals who have exhibited innovation, creativity and entrepreneurial skills in Michigan agriculture.
“While most in Michigan agriculture know John Diehl as being Michigan’s most knowledgeable man on soybeans, John’s true impact on the industry is rooted in his heart,” association President Jim Byrum said in a news statement. “John’s path to such a place of expertise and influence has not been easy. It has been as winding and colorful as you’ll find anywhere.”
Diehl grew up on a farm in Dansville originally owned by his great grandfather, and he pursued a career as an engine designer with International Harvester after graduating from Purdue University with a bachelor’s degree in ag engineering. After a tour of duty during the Vietnam War in the U.S. Navy as an anti-submarine operator on a P-3 patrol plane, he returned to the family farm and began to expand its certified seed production business known as Diehl Fields.
During the next 20 years, Diehl earned a reputation in agricultural circles as an expert in developing specialized varieties of soybeans that successfully competed against seed produced by larger regional and international companies. He formalized the competition with its “Best of the Best” program at Diehl Fields.
The company became known for producing a quality product through the use of innovations that Diehl himself invented, such as custom bean ladders with rubber coatings to reduce seed damage and a gravity table to improve seed physiology. In 1979, the operation released the first bean in Michigan with Brown Stem Rot resistance.
Diehl changed the operation’s name to D.F. Seeds in 1992 to concentrate further on certified seed production, sometimes partnering with larger companies such as Asgrow, Dairyland, Callahan, Channel Bio, Crop Production Services, The Anderson’s and Remington. At the same time, D.F. Seeds continued to produce its own GMO and non-GMO varieties of seeds. In 1997, Diehl was able to launch D.F. Seeds as a stand-alone company with financial backing from former classmates at Purdue.
In 2015, Diehl assumed the responsibilities as research director at D.F. Seeds after completing a transition that transferred ownership and overall management to Chris Varner, who became president of the operation. In 2017, Tillerman Seeds LLC, a Grand Rapids-based company created to acquire regional producers of specialty seeds, purchased the assets of D.F. Seeds and now is combining back-office functions with another acquisition, Legacy Seeds in Scandinavia, Wis. Diehl remains with D.F. Seeds as research director.
In addition to the association’s award, Diehl received the Purdue University Agricultural Alumni Association's Certificate of Distinction in 2014, its highest award for alumni of the College of Agriculture.
For more information on the association’s Leaders and Legends award and Diehl, please refer to the association link at Leaders and Legends. For more information on D.F. Seeds, please refer to this link at D.F. Seeds. For more information on Tillerman, please refer to this link at Tillerman & Co.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - August 9, 2018 -- Tillerman Seeds LLC, a holding company established last year to offer a liquidity path to owners of independent seed companies across the country, today announced it has completed its second acquisition.
Greenville, Mich.-based Tillerman Seeds said it acquired the assets and real estate of Legacy Seeds, Inc., a Scandinavia, Wis.-based producer of alfalfa, corn, wheat and soybean seeds, as well as cover crops. Legacy also has seed operations in Nampa, Idaho.
The transaction allows Legacy Seeds to buy out the ownership stake of retired founder Steve Jensen and another minority partner, Tyler Lee, while also providing resources for growth at the Wisconsin seed firm. The transaction also allows Legacy Seeds to maintain its heritage, operations — and all jobs — in Wisconsin and Idaho. CEO Bruce Ceranske will remain as an owner and executive leader of Legacy Seeds. Lee will continue to manage the company’s operations in Nampa.
The Legacy Seeds acquisition builds on Tillerman’s October 2017 acquisition of Dansville, Mich.-based DF Seeds, LLC, a leading producer of soybean and wheat seeds for Midwestern microclimates. Both companies also sell popular conventional non-GMO seed lines.
Taken together, the two transactions have created a Midwestern seed company with nearly $40 million in annual revenues and 42 employees, proudly supplying more than 800 farms from seed operations in Michigan, Wisconsin and Idaho.
Tillerman Seeds plans to operate the acquired companies as standalone entities with shared back-office services including accounting, human resources and purchasing. Legacy Seeds and DF Seeds will be able to collaborate on research and development as well as best business practices for customer service, marketing and cross-selling of product lines to better serve farmers. The growing seed firm will be led by three agribusiness experts with established industry credentials:
“This transaction will bring new opportunities for the customers, employees and suppliers of both Legacy Seeds and DF Seeds,” Sheppard said. “These are two strong companies with complementary product lines, similar cultures and a shared laser-like focus on developing seeds that allow farmers in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and other Midwestern states to maximize yields.
“Bringing them together under the Tillerman Seeds umbrella will allow each company to cross-sell products — including their popular conventional non-GMO seed lines — and work together on research, innovation and customer relationships,” Sheppard said.
As part of the transaction, veteran agribusiness executive Kip Pendleton of Minneapolis-based Pendleton Group, LLC will join Tillerman Seeds as executive chairman. Throughout his career, Pendleton has served as a senior executive in AgTech, Precision Ag and Decision Ag companies and participated in multiple merger-and-acquisition transactions in the agriculture industry.
Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Tillerman & Co., which provided structuring, negotiation and capital formation for both transactions, will provide financial management for Tillerman Seeds until a permanent chief financial officer is hired. The Grand Rapids, Mich.-based investment and merchant banking firm has also been engaged to source additional acquisitions of small, independent seed producers to help drive further growth for Tillerman Seeds.
While the $54 billion global seed market is dominated by a handful of large multinational corporations, there are considerable opportunities for small, independent seed producers to supply domestic and foreign farmers, according to Remos Lenio, partner in Tillerman & Co.
“The large multinational companies focus on developing seeds that can be sold nationally and internationally, which leaves plenty of room for local firms that focus on developing seeds for specific microclimates and specific grower needs, including conventional non-GMO seeds,” he said. “We intend to acquire local seed firms, especially those with older owners looking to exit the business, so we can continue their heritage and maintain the jobs in the communities where they grew up.”
Horizon Bank provided senior debt financing and a revolving credit facility to Tillerman Seeds. Open Prairie Ventures, an Effingham, Ill.-based private equity fund that works with high-growth companies in rural America, provided subordinated debt financing. The Grand Rapids office of Barnes & Thornburg provided legal counsel to Tillerman Seeds on the transaction.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - October 16, 2017 -- Tillerman Seeds LLC, a Grand Rapids-based company created to acquire regional producers of specialty, GMO and non-GMO seeds, has purchased the assets of Dansville, Mich.-based DF Seeds Inc. in its first transaction.
DF Seeds, an award-winning supplier of soybean and wheat varieties that are best-suited to grow in Michigan’s unique micro-climate, serves more than 400 farmers with seeds that generate higher yields and increased resistance to disease and pests. Founded in 1992, the company will continue to operate under the DF Seeds brand with the same local team, including President Chris Varner, a 25-year veteran of the seed industry.
“We are pleased to welcome Chris and her staff to the Tillerman Seeds team, which has been working diligently to identify acquisitions in the seed market,” said James Sheppard, chief executive officer of Tillerman Seeds.
“We believe there is a significant opportunity to consolidate small seed companies around the country,” Sheppard said. “There is a growing number of seed company owners who are preparing to retire, but want to ensure that the legacy, jobs and culture of the companies they built are carried forward. That is what Tillerman Seeds was created to do.”
Tillerman Seeds intends to purchase small seed companies with an established regional presence or specialty products that have growth potential. The holding company plans to operate acquired companies as standalone entities with shared back-office services including accounting, human resources and purchasing. DF Seeds and other acquired companies will also collaborate on research and development, as well as best business practices for customer service, marketing and cross-selling of product lines.
Tillerman Seeds will be lead by agribusiness experts with established industry credentials including Sheppard, who has four decades of experience in agricultural sales, marketing and operations management. Sheppard has held executive leadership positions with Harvey Milling Co., Harvey’s Agricultural Solutions and United Agri Products. He holds a bachelor’s degree in crop and soil science from Michigan State University and serves on the board of the Michigan AgriBusiness Association.
Varner will continue to serve in a leadership position with DF Seeds, where she has worked since 2009 and been an owner since 2013. Varner has worked in the seed industry for more than 25 years, serving in management and operations positions at two Michigan-based seed farms and at Michigan State University. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in seed business and technology from Iowa State University. She is the current president of the Independent Seed Producers Association for the year 2017.
Tillerman & Co., which provided structuring, negotiation and capital formation on the transaction, will provide financial management for the new company and its subsidiaries until a permanent chief financial officer is hired. The Grand Rapids, Mich.-based investment and merchant banking firm has also been engaged to source additional acquisitions of small, independent seed producers to help drive further growth for Tillerman Seeds.
While the $54 billion global seed market is dominated by a handful of large multinational corporations, there are considerable opportunities for small, independent seed producers to supply domestic and foreign farmers, according to Shepherd.
“The multinationals focus on developing seeds that can be sold nationally and internationally, which leaves plenty of room for small, local firms that focus on developing seeds for specific microclimates and specific grower needs, including non-GMO seeds,” he said.
Wells Fargo provided senior debt financing and a revolving credit facility to Tillerman Seeds. The Grand Rapids office of Barnes & Thornburg provided legal counsel to Tillerman Seeds on the transaction. The Grand Rapids office of Dickinson Wright PLLC represented the sellers.