Johnston Seed Co. has, literally and figuratively, returned to its roots.
Until recent years, Johnston Seed was part of Johnston Enterprises, which included W.B. Johnston Grain Co., the oldest and largest privately owned grain company in Oklahoma.
In 2014, Johnston Enterprises agreed to sell the bulk of its operations, including W.B. Johnston Grain Co. and Port 33, a shipping terminal in eastern Oklahoma, to New Orleans-based CGB Enterprises, which maintains elevators in various Northwest Oklahoma communities, including Enid.
The transaction was finalized early last year, and since then Johnston Seed has returned to the company’s focus when it was opened by Willis B. Johnston in 1893, supplying seed.
“The very first piece of the business was the seed business,” said Joey Meibergen, head of Johnston Seed Co. and the fifth generation of his family to lead the company. “It really has been kind of full circle. Now we’ve got only one business to focus on growing. It’s very much focused on agriculture.”
Focusing on the seed
Initially, said Meibergen, there were plans to sell Johnston Seed Co. to CGB along with the rest of the operation.
“Ultimately it was mutually decided that, as it was written, the purchase agreement couldn’t be executed and comply with state law,” said Meibergen.
He said there was a “steep learning curve” for company executives after Johnston Seed struck out on its own, because some functions formerly done by the larger company now fell to Meibergen and his staff.
“We had to create and set up the infrastructure necessary to be able to accommodate those new responsibilities,” he said.
Among those infrastructure changes, Johnston Seed is investing in new production equipment.
“What makes us pretty unique in this business. We have a pretty extensive production side of the process, where we grow the products that we clean and package and market and sell them ourselves,” said Meibergen.
Johnston sells traditional crop seeds such as wheat, rye, corn, sorghum and soybeans, as well as specialty seeds like bermuda grasses, buffalo grass, wildflowers, native grasses and wildlife seeds.
The focus this year is investing in operational capacity, Meibergen said. Installing new seed cleaners will help increase production about 60 percent in one plant, he added.
“We’re nearly tripling our storage capacity by building two new warehouses on this downtown campus,” said Meibergen.
For about the last decade, Johnston Seed has been breeding seeded bermuda grass varieties, and has since expanded into breeding vegetative strains. Johnston Seed plans to release its first seeded bermuda grass variety in early 2018, Meibergen said. Right now that variety is simply called JSC2007-13S, but a company-wide challenge has been issued to find a new, more marketable moniker.
“We’re really excited about it and very proud of that breeding program,” Meibergen said.
Johnston has entered four seeded and two vegetative varieties of bermuda grass into an independent trial, and “they are performing extremely well,” Meibergen said.
The Meibergen family has endowed a professorship in plant breeding at Oklahoma State University, as well as a number of scholarships at OSU.
“That’s why we do what we do, creating opportunities for others,” said Meibergen.
Agriculture is at the heart of Johnston Seed Co.’s business, Meibergen said, a fact of which he is very proud.
“We really hold sacred the fact that we’re supplying the people that are the most influential in taking care of our world, and feeding the world,” Meibergen said. “I think that’s a very honorable pursuit. We get to do that in a way we’re creating opportunities for our employees, and for new employees, creating jobs.”
Johnston is an Enid company that does business across the world, with a loyal workforce boasting an average tenure of more than 13 years.
“A couple of our products we’ve exported to every continent except Antarctica,” said Meibergen. “And our employees, we have the best team in the history of Johnston Seed Co. right now. They have created this company and they have done it with grit and hardship that you don’t see displayed elsewhere. I couldn’t be more honored and privileged to be in a role where I can serve them. In my point of view, this is their company to run. They’ve made it what it is.”
The company is in the midst of a rebranding program.
“Really focusing on what we do, why we do it and what’s the vision we want to achieve,” said Meibergen.
Story provided by: Enid News & Eagle
Written by: Jeff Mullin