By Tony Hooker
NU AG’s Rudy Bergner and his son Mike have over 75 years of experience in the AG industry between them, and now Mike’s son Dayton, who has been helping with the family operation for years, is studying at the University of Illinois, preparing to take a more active role in the business. I recently spoke with Rudy and Mike (Dayton was at school at the time) about the business, what it’s like to work with family, and a whole lot more.
Since Dayton’s not here today, let’s talk about him! How active is his role in the company?
<MB> Right now, he’s just in school. He helps with plot planting and summer tasks. In the spring he helps with the planting process and then not a lot happens in the summer.
Mr. Bergner, when did you start the company?
<MB> We started the company together in 91, and then became incorporated in 92.
What was your background prior to starting NU AG?
<RB> I had been with Cargill for 20 years, and I worked for Funk’s G as a district sales manager for five years before starting the company.
What was your impetus to start it?
<RB> Mostly, I wanted to start my own business. I had a good clientele following me when I changed companies once before, so I thought it would be a good time to start a business and bring Mike into it, working together and keeping it in the family.
Now you’ve got Dayton getting involved as well, right?
<RB> Yep, Dayton’s been around us every summer. He pretty well understands what we’re doing, and he’s ready to come in when he graduates out of Ag school at the University of Illinois.
Mike, what was your background prior to coming to NU Ag?
<MB> I went to the U of I, also, graduating in ’88. Then I went to Chicago and sold for Ernest and Julio Gallo. We worked through distributors. I worked with Romano Brothers, selling Gallo wines. After that, I went to work for a printing paper company in California for about two years, out in LA. I was single and having fun.
How much has the industry changed in the nearly thirty years that you’ve been in business?
<MB> It’s huge. The technologies have changed so much. When we first came into the industry, it was conventional hybrids, conventional beans. There were no GMO’s in any of the seed that we sold at the time. Then they came out with Roundup ready beans in the mid-nineties. That was the first genetically modified seed. We started selling those varieties around 1996.
So, are these modified products a good thing? Have all these changes been for the best?
<MB> Yes, I think they are. When we first started, we had customers who wanted 175-bushel yields, and now days if you get less than 200, it’s a crop failure. Now days, a lot of our growers are averaging 220-230 bushels per acre for their whole farm.
<RB> When we started NU AG, we were selling seed corn for about $60 a bag, and now days it’s about $200 a bag more, and the yields have come up, specifically because of the technology. The yields have come up markedly for both Corn and Soybeans.
For someone like me with very limited ag experience, they make seed that is pest resistant as well as roundup ready, right?
<MB> Yes, they make both pest and herbicide resistant varieties. There are Rootworm, Corn borer, Earworm resident varieties. The good thing about it is the health factor is built into the plant, so we don’t have to spray pesticides on our fields, because it’s built into it. People don’t have to eat or breathe those pesticides like they did back years ago. It’s really an excellent situation for everyone. We don’t have to put on the pesticides and herbicides that we used to have to use.
In general, what happens to the corn and beans that your growers produce?
<RB> It goes to the local elevators and is shipped out to different locations. Generally it goes south for poultry feed. It generally becomes feed for livestock.
Do you have any food grade varieties?
We do. Newman elevator takes in food grade and they clean it and bag it for places that make tortilla chips and that sort of thing. Yellow food grade hybrids, not the white. We don’t have the white food grade hybrids that Frito Lay takes in. Most of your stuff is going to feed livestock. It’s for cattle, hogs and poultry, mostly.
Where do you see the industry heading in the future?
It’s going to run more and more into the biotech industry, although it’s starting to come back to the non-GMO varieties. There’s a market for organic, and there’s a market for non-GMO products that is expanding and growers like the premium that they’re paid for those products. The biotechnology, I believe, is here to stay. It’s going to rotate around pests and the herbicides that we’re going to use. It used to be just Roundup ready beans, then they came out with a Liberty bean, which is another product, and now they have a Liberty-Roundup bean and a 2,4-D Roundup bean and they also have an extend Roundup bean. There are several different platforms of beans that you can spray Roundup on all of them and then spray other chemicals as well. I think that there will be four different platforms in the future.
<RB> Weeds are the battle.
Mother nature tends to fight back and make roundup resistant weeds, right?
<MB> Exactly. Yes. That’s why they have to keep changing. The weeds can adapt and eventually produce a seed that doesn’t get bothered when its sprayed with Roundup or 2,4-D.
How about your future? How long do you see yourselves being part of the business?
<MB> We’ll be here as long as we can. Dayton will be around so he can learn the whole thing. He’ll have to take several years to learn what he needs to know. The business has changed a lot, for us. Servicing our customers is still the most important thing to us, to advise our customers with any sort of agronomical advice we can give them. Then there’s the day to day operation of our business. Our customers still like to see us, and I don’t know what else we’d do, so we’ll just be here. <laughs>