|By TIM ALEXANDER
FAIRMOUNT, Ill. — Julie Trisler Catlett is not a typical seed hybrid company owner. But Trisler Seed Farms, Inc., in Fairmount, Ill. is proud of being known throughout the Midwest as not-so-typical seed company.
For 69 years, the family-owned company has been known for connecting with their customers on a personal basis. After all, along with their customers, the company has witnessed many changes in agriculture practices and trends since 1936, when Lyle and Blanche Trisler founded the business with one acre of corn production and their dreams.
“We feel that many of our customers, especially those who are family farmers, make a connection with a family-owned company,” said Scott N. Davis, CCA, the company’s strategic development manager. “They know that we are free from the inefficiencies created by the different management levels of a big corporation. They feel that if they have questions and concerns that they can be addressed in a quick, efficient manner.”
Today, Trisler Seed Farms claims more than 6,000 acres of corn production per year.
Their three-pronged marketing approach includes retail sales of Trisler hybrids and TRISOY brand beans, domestic contract production for other seed companies and contract production for the export market. The business remains family-owned though the company’s founders have passed away.
Julie Trisler Catlett, the youngest of four children, now serves as the company’s president and sole owner.
Though Catlett grew up under the shadows of the Midwest’s grain elevators, running the family business was not her primary goal in life. Leaving Illinois for Florida in her early 20s, Catlett earned a degree in seamanship and was a yacht captain for many years.
Though she wasn’t aware of it at the time, the experience helped her to prepare for her current career in the typically male-dominated field of hybrid seed sales.
In the late 1980s, Catlett returned to Illinois to help care for her ailing mother, who passed away in 1989. Blanche Trisler had been running the family seed company since Lyle’s death in 1971, so the daunting thought of a woman running a successful farming-related business was not foreign to Julie. She took over the business following her mother’s death and eventually purchased the company from her three siblings, who decided to pursue other endeavors.
“While I was growing up, I remember both of my parents being very active in the business. After the children were put to bed, my mother would work on the books. So seeing a woman run a seed business was not a new concept to me,” Catlett recalled.
Since taking over the business, Catlett said she feels the biggest challenge in operating the company is juggling day-to-day operations and public and business relationships.
“As with most businesses, the biggest daily challenges are dealing with people, whether it is working with our employees or with our reselling dealers,” said Catlett.
“Beyond that, there is always the daily challenge of directing our organization as we prepare for the future.”
Early in her career, Catlett faced a bigger hurdle simply because of her gender.
“The biggest challenge has been that women owners are still the minority in the seed business. A few people in the seed industry doubted my abilities, so like other women in business, I had to work harder to gain their respect. A few of my employees were a little skeptical of why I wanted to work in the business and incorrectly assumed that I was trying to build it up to sell,” Catlett said.
Catlett said she sees a future of continuing success for hers and other similar, regional seed companies.
“Trisler has carved a niche in the seed industry by operating efficiently, delivering a quality product and backing it up with high-quality customer service second-to-none. I see Trisler continuing to license the newest technologies and delivering them in our regionally-adapted hybrids for many years to come,” Catlett said. “The future will involve challenges in sorting the many new corn technologies and correctly matching them to our customers’ needs, while at the same time trying to manage inventory. Despite big challenges, I see a future of opportunities for Trisler as we continue to focus on meeting the needs of our customers.”
To learn more about Trisler Seed Farms and their product lines, call 217-288-9301 or see their website at www.trisler.com
This farm news was published in the May 2006 issue of Marketplace.