New to exporting, Mark Birdsall and son-in-law Blake Inman have persistently grown Birdsall Grain and Seed LLC and their farm in Berthold, ND. The company specializes in seed production and processing as well as agronomy sales. Along the way, they have continued developing the business and seek every opportunity to add value to ND growers and products.
Birdsall has been growing in the Berthold, ND, area for more than five generations, and with that kind of history, there is a steadfastness for improvement and giving back to the community. “We have a good base of customers and growers, and we are always looking for ways to expand the business, be it new technology, robotics, seed plants, and added revenue streams. It’s a win/win for everyone,” explains Inman. When they needed a new sprayer for their fields, they started offering customized services that they themselves needed and could offer to local farmers too. Adding services has been another way they can serve their community of farmers. Now, their purchases can be shared with the other farmers in the area, and Birdsall benefits from a cost-effective sprayer that can serve them for years to come.
Finding these opportunities to expand has long been the norm for Birdsall. Recently, the company did major upgrades to their processing equipment with a new processing plant with color sorting capabilities making their seed products more consistent. Adding robotics and a high-technology approach to their operations has created room to increase capacity for the use of the facility year-round. The upgrades also made the equipment a lot safer for the operators, Birdsall explains.
“We have the whole package right here,” says Birdsall, “we have great growers, great packaging and processing, and a great location.” So, it is no wonder Birdsall Grain & Seed is getting into exporting. They are focusing on doing it right. They offer custom packaging, working with other companies with experience, and testing. As a recent addition to the North Dakota Trade Office (NDTO), they hope to find new markets and opportunities for expansion; and global seems a good way to go. The western side of ND lends well to products ready for export markets, including peas, lentils, and pulses, says Birdsall, “and, naturally, we like to work with farmers in the area to create and add value for them too.”
The whole operation is built with consumers in mind. As Birdsall notes, “as a whole, consumers are more interested in where their food is coming from these days. The consumers are getting smarter and there is a place for a business like ours that can show our products from field to fork.” Reflecting on farming practices over the years and technological advancements have gotten better and better, and with each new generation, the progression of providing a safer and better product for everyone, employees included, is something special, Inman and Birdsall agree.
Birdsall Grain & Seed is always creating a product to meet customer needs, with seed varieties, they have to think years ahead of the curve. New seed varieties can take more than five years to create and scale for usability. More protein is a common trend in pulse products for consumers, and Birdsall sees an uptick in demand for high-protein seeds.
Meeting consumer needs is important, but also educating them on what we can provide. The qualities and attributes of the products can be clearly identified, especially as the testing continues to get better and better. As an industry, that information should be provided to the consumers as facts. “If the consumer doesn’t buy it, it doesn’t matter what we grow,” says Birdsall. So listening to the consumers is quintessential, but also providing them the information they need to feel confident in their purchases.
Both Birdsall and Inman smile when asked about their social media pages. “It’s amazing, even locally, how many people don’t have ties to agriculture anymore, and we want to show all those people out there that are not familiar with it what it looks like,” says Inman. “We all have different ideas about what promotion looks like,” says Birdsall, “and we still have print ads too! But we are good as long as we put out factual and informative information. I mean, I’ve got a lot of gray hair, and if I can figure it out [social media], anyone can!”
When discussing future plans and post covid exporting, Birdsall insightfully comments that we haven’t gotten to the end of the COVID impacts or effects yet. Inman agrees but adds that every challenge breeds new opportunities if you know where to find them, and that is what Birdsall Grain & Seed will keep doing. “More now than before, food is becoming valued. Seeing empty shelves was a wake-up call for many, and this is an opportunity to educate. Food does not just appear; we need to work together to get things on the shelves. A bare shelf was a big story, and now people are paying more attention to agriculture,” says Birdsall. ND is a state rich with many resources, and many are looking at ways we can all continue to help make the world a better place.
While the future for Birdsall Grain & Seed is sure to include exporting, the company is still learning all it can to ensure success and that all its products go to the right place in the right way. The NDTO looks forward to continuing our work with them and serving as a resource to help grow their business from field to fork.