Bob Prible: a fascination with soybeans becomes a business
June 20, 2012
By GLEN WERLING
Soybeans are fascinating, Bob Prible says, and that’s what led him to start Prible Ag Products.
“I really like plant genetics and I love soybean genetics. That’s what I’ve always liked about the seed business,” he said. “I like to look at new material. We test 80 or 90 new soybean varieties out here. It’s really interesting to me to go out there and look at the differences in their characteristics.”
Prible got his start in the seed business right out of high school, first working with NFM Grain in Poneto. He moved on to Agland Grain in Bluffton and then worked for 16 years at a seed company in Adams County.
“I’ve been in the seed business for 30 years one way or another,” said the 49-year-old Prible. “People will ask me how many years of college I’ve had. I tell them I don’t have any years of college, but I’ve had a lot of years of on-the-job training.”
After more than 20 years of working for someone else, Prible decided to step outside of the comfort zone and use what he knew about “seedsmanship” to start his own business.
“So we came over here and started Prible Ag Products in 2005-06. We operated one year out of a small building up by our house. Then we realized that we needed something more,” said Prible.
A customer told Prible that without an office or a special building dedicated to the seed sales, he was hard to take serious as a legitimate player in the seed sales business.
“It’s got to look like a seed business. A lot of people want to buy their seed from a place that looks like a business,” said Prible.
“We decided to build the big building (at 700S and 200W) in the spring of 2007,” he said. “I remember on Christmas Eve of 2006, the kids and I were out here getting stone down to pour concrete the day after Christmas.”
He started out by selling Crows Hybrids, which was owned by Channel Bio, a division of Monsanto. Crows, as a name brand, was discontinued several years ago, and Channel started selling seed under its own name.
Prible Ag Products also markets its own brand of seed wheat under the Prible name as well as a private line of non-genetically modified seed beans.
The seed business is top-loaded with work at the beginning of the year because that’s when most farmers order their seed. Those long hours continue through planting season in the spring.
“We live out here in the springtime, 14, 16, 18, sometimes even 24 hours a day,” said Prible. The big building is outfitted with the comforts of home — a complete kitchen, a large screen TV and comfortable sofas and chairs.
Prible recalled how one time he was treating a batch of soybeans — with his own special blend of chemicals to resist disease and fungal growth — at 3 a.m. when a farmer rolled up with a wagon and wanted to know if he was open. He was and he treated the beans for him.
“He wanted to get started on planting right away because the weatherman was calling for rain later that day,” recalled Prible.
It’s that kind of customer service that Prible says sets him apart from the larger ag service dealers.
“We like to do whatever our customers want. We understand that they are the only reason that we are in business,” he said. “A lot of their kids are friends with my kids. They have the same problems we do and deal with the same daily issues we do. They’re not just customers — they’re friends and neighbors, so we try to go that extra mile for them. If they want seed delivered in season, then we do it. If they want a special seed treatment, we do that.”
Another advantage Prible sees with his business is he is also a farmer, so he can test the different seed varieties first before selling them. He calls his operation “the guinea pig.”
“We can take new lines we’re considering selling and plant them in a field instead of letting the customer find out if there’s an issue with a new bean or corn variety,” said Prible. “We eliminate a lot of problems for our customers by being able to look at new varieties a year in advance and weed out the ones we think will work well and those varieties we believe will not work well.”
Prible Ag Products also sells several lines of farm equipment, including Killbros and Parker gravity wagons and grain carts, Top Air sprayers, and Leon manure spreaders.
When buying seeds from Prible, his customers knew he was also a farmer and they wanted to know what type of sprayer he used. “I told them that we were using Top Air and how great they were and how well we liked our sprayer,” said Prible.
At that time, Top Air was being sold by a Bluffton ag products dealer.
“I had five customers that bought sprayers on my recommendation,” said Prible. “When the dealer in Bluffton went out of business, those farmers told me, ‘Hey we bought this sprayer because of what you told us about it. Now I don’t have anyone to service it.’
“I called the representative from Top Air and said that I had some customers who were upset with me because they bought a sprayer on my recommendation and there’s no one over here to service it anymore,” said Prible.
The rep told Prible that he couldn’t get anyone else in the Bluffton area interested in selling the Top Air brand.
Prible really wasn’t looking to branch out his business, but when the same Top Air rep came to see him about a month later, he changed his mind.
“The Top Air guy told me, ‘You know I’ve been thinking. You’ve got a real nice facility here, you’ve got this nice big building and real nice office space, why don’t you take on this dealership?’” said Prible.
Prible really wasn’t looking to get into anything that would require service of motors or transmissions, but the Top Air brand was trailer and three point sprayers. So, Prible talked to his mechanic, Bob Mittlestedt, who agreed that putting together the sprayers and doing service work was something that he could do.
“So we started selling Top Air and it’s really starting to sell well for us,” said Prible.
Top Air is part of the Unverferth family of farm equipment, so it was a natural fit for Prible to also market other Unverferth brands — Killbros and Parker grain handling equipment.
To complete the package, Prible Ag Products is also now marketing Unverferth rolling harrows.
Leon isn’t an Unverferth brand, but a representative from Leon contacted Prible about selling their particular brand of high capacity, heavy duty manure spreaders. Prible saw it as a good fit for this area and took on the brand. Now he’s thinking of adding a complementary line of other livestock equipment.
And if that wasn’t enough to do, Prible Ag Products also sells lawn seeding mixes, lawn fertilizer blends and wood stove pellets.
“We’re always looking for that one item that we can bag, box or sell for somebody. We’ve got this big building that is filled by the seed business from January to June, but the rest of the time we have space to do some other things,” said Prible.
“Our future is in customer service,” concluded Prible. “When I say my customers are important to me and I won’t sell them something that won’t make them more money, I really mean it.”