Bob Mastin had a Valentine’s Day deadline this year that many would envy.
On February 6, the award winning Sundre seed grower was invited to take part in an Alberta feed barley trade mission to Japan and Korea. He had eight days to prepare a PowerPoint presentation, so it could be translated and ready for when the contingent left Alberta on March 5.
“I’ll probably talk about my background,” he said. “How I got into the business, my company philosophy, the advantages and challenges of growing pedigreed seed where I live.”
Going to seed
Mastin grew up on the family farm on the banks of the Red Deer River, where the lush farmland of Mountain View county rolls into Alberta’s breathtakingly beautiful ranch country. After high school he attended Olds College. In the Field Crops program he learned enough about the seed industry to make him wonder if seed production might be the way to increase per acre revenue.
“In economics class, I did a case study on seed oat production and I soon realized there was a bit of a premium with seed oats because of all the land that’s contaminated with wild oats. …I was like, wow! You can afford to buy land and pay for it as long as you don’t have too many crop failures.”
He harvested his first crop of pedigreed seed oats in 1978. In the years since he hasn’t had too many crop failures, he’s built a successful business and he’s won an awful lot of awards. They include Pedigree Oats Title at the Calgary Seed Fair and Hay Show (10 times); two wins, one second and one third place in the span of four years at the Seager Wheeler Seed Show; and, possibly his favourite, in 2008 his family was selected as Mountain View County’s outstanding farm family at the Calgary Stampede.
In 2006 Mastin acquired the rights to be the sole distributor for Sundre barley from the Field Crop Development Centre at Lacombe, Alberta. “You submit a bid,” he explained. “You have a marketing proposal, and they grade you on how you’ll promote the variety, as well as on how much you’re going to pay them.”
It was his marketing plan, he said, rather than the royalties he was prepared to pay that won the bid. His unique proposal was to offer the research station lower royalties on sales, so that he would be able to sell the seed at a lower price. He believed lower prices would mean that farmers would buy more seed. Revenues lost on lower prices would be more than regained on increased sales. “The marketing plan was what saved me,” he said “Another (much bigger) company offered more money but they liked my plan.”
“I don’t think people realize,” he explained. “On average, in cereal grain, only 15 per cent of the seed put in the ground is pedigreed. One reason pedigreed has such a low market share is the market cost and a lot of that is attributed to royalties. If I offer you half the royalty but we get five times the distribution you’re going to have two and a half times the money. I explained it in detail and they bought into it.”
Since then he’s acquired distribution rights for 13 more varieties.
Showing off Sundre
In his PowerPoint presentation, he’ll show pictures of the area, including shots of the legendary wild horses of Sundre and other wildlife. “And, I’ll show a picture of my Sundre barley when there’s 20 head of elk going through it,” he said with a chuckle. “This is where I farm. It’s beautiful, but there are some challenges.”
His location on the edge of ranch country means he can maintain genetic purity of the varieties. Dry, cold winters are another plus when it comes to seed storage. Hail storms that can flatten acres of crop in minutes are a challenge.
And finally, he’ll tell his listeners in Japan and Korea why he got into seed distribution: to try to increase pedigreed seed use from 15 per cent to 80 or 85 per cent, to make pedigreed seed readily available to farmers. “If more farmers are using top quality pedigreed seed they should be producing a more consistent product that the end user in Asia would be buying.” †