Evaluating innovation at Augie’s Ag Sales

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Emry Dinman/Columbia Basin Herald Augie compares a red variety called ‘Bloody Butcher’ to a more typical corn variety. Though Augie tests 60 varieties of commercially viable corn, he grows four varieties of heirloom corn that produce vivid colors.

EPHRATA — When Augie Kooistra of Augie Ag Sales sells his customers corn seed, he wants to know that the product he’s selling is reliable. After all, corn that does well in the Midwest doesn’t always do well in the West, despite the best marketing from dozens of different companies saying their seed will bring farmers good fortune.

Augie doesn’t think much of marketing; the Ephrata- based salesman wants to know firsthand what varieties work and which don’t. So he planted them all.

Sixty varieties, to be exact, developed by a host of different seed companies. Sixty-four, if you count another four varieties to one side, heirloom corn of various and vibrant colors not designed by any company. Those four don’t serve much of a commercial purpose beyond decoration, Augie said.

“Those are just for kicks,” Augie said.

Among the 60 varieties hybridized and patented by various seed companies, ??Augie measures the way different types grow, from the size of ears on a stalk to the amount of stalks from a seed. Commercially viable corn usually develops a single shoot to a seed, creating a consistent and robust plant.

A number of the varieties Augie planted grew as many as six stalks to a seed, however, producing smaller ears.

“I won’t plant these again,” Augie said.

Other varieties are “winners,” as Augie puts it, varieties that year- over-year grow strongly and consistently. Different varieties take different amounts of time to grow, ranging from around 70 days to over 100, and Augie is looking for winners in every category. That way, no matter the customers preference, Augie know what will work best for them.

When it’s time to harvest, Augie calculates germination rates, weight per acre and moisture levels in the corn, all to better determine how well each variety has done.

Augie’s Ag Sales sells more than corn seed, dealing in implements such as hay accessories, including inoculant, applicators and moisture monitors.

While Augie is avidly interested in innovation, he sours on the obfuscating role that marketing plays in picking what products make it to consumers. Silver-tongued marketers can convince the public to buy products that are manifestly inferior, Augie said.

He points to a liquid hay inoculant that boosts natural Lactic Acid naturally found on the plant matter, helping to prevent spoilage. That product works roughly 30 times faster than the most popular product on the market, Augie said.

“Enough marketing can beat out a superior innovation,” he said.

Not so for Augie, because he’s tested them all — 60, to be exact — and when his customers come looking for corn seed, he’ll know firsthand what works best.

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