Next generation takes charge with technology

When his father Tom died in March 2018, Seth Sheen remained to run the family’s crop and seed protection business, which his father started decades ago, just before the busy growing season.

Fortunately, his dad taught him a lot.

“He taught me everything. He was great at things like that,” said Seth, who has joined the family business of T&S Crop Service Inc. in Warsaw, New York, in 2000 after graduating from Buffalo University.

Now, 40 years old and with two daughters of his own – 5 and 2 – Seth is leading T&S into the future with a keen eye on technology. He says it is a necessity, especially in view of the demands to strengthen environmental standards and increase the cost of labor.

This was not always the case. According to the company’s website, the late Tom Sheehan started the business with a single pickup truck equipped with a 300-liter spray system. The changes were slow and gradual as Seth returned to business in 2000.

In those days, farms in Wyoming County, where the business is located, were smaller and there were more. Nowadays farms, mostly dairies, are much larger and can cover thousands of acres instead of hundreds.

“When I came back, we probably still had a pair of GVM pickup sprayers, and now we have maybe seven John Deere R4038 sprayers and a pair of Hagies, so things have changed a lot in that regard,” Seth says.

At one time, the tasks of custom applicators were written down on paper and passed on to employees for execution. Now every wireless job is transferred to the booth display, where the employee just sees where to go and how much to drop. Variable rate vacancies are a common occurrence these days, almost heard of, at least on a large scale when Seth started.

Navigation on high inputs

But like most manufacturers these days, high material prices are putting a lot of pressure on businesses this year.

“It makes planning very difficult,” Seth says. “They have increased not only in the last six months, probably since the beginning of 2021. This has been a steady growth trend in almost everything. You hear a lot about glyphosate and nitrogen prices. … These are two big ones that have probably doubled or tripled in price over the last 12-18 months ”.

It’s not just that everything is more expensive. Finding enough nitrogen fertilizers, glyphosate or other materials to cover the future growing season was difficult. That creates a domino effect, he says. When growers hear that glyphosate, for example, will be low, they start buying other herbicides, which in turn become more expensive and difficult to find.

“Prices are very high and you can’t get them. It was difficult; it’s really different, ”Seth says. “I think everything will be fine and everything. I don’t believe we won’t be short when it comes to the season. But it was a little stressful trying to find things. ”

CONTINUOUS GROWTH: T&S Crop Service has gradually grown from Tom Sheehan, who uses a 300-gallon sprayer on a pickup truck, to the full range of plant and seed protection services now run by Seth Sheehan, a second-generation owner.

So what does he say to growers concerned about the shortage of fertilizers and herbicides this spring?

“So far I’m sure we’re going to be fine,” Seth says. “We have been working on this for the last few months. To customers with whom we could plan and know what they need, we have already provided what they need for the year. We transported a lot of fertilizers last fall. “

Room for growth

Unlike his late father, who grew up on a small dairy farm, Seth did not grow up on a farm. After high school he went to college to get a degree, but his father told him he needed help running a business.

Seth says it was an easy decision to come back. The work was well paid, it was something he was familiar with and he could work with his father. But he had to learn from scratch.

He went to work, performing custom spraying and setting up warehouses for customers. His father, he says, was more than willing to let him do his thing.

“As for buying fertilizer, buying crop protection and when to buy them, he left that to me early on,” Seth says. “When I first came back, he said, ‘You know you want to buy this?’ It just allowed me to make mistakes and grow. He didn’t allow me to make big mistakes, but he allowed me to do what I thought was right, and if I was wrong, you know, we would have done it. “

He says having the opportunity to grow has given him confidence that he can do the job on his own.

“I think it’s extremely important,” Seth says. “We are facing people who are going to take over farms or businesses, or have already taken over, but are still paralyzed by not being able to make decisions because they have never had the authority to take them. He prepared me very well for the fact that he was not here. It helped me a lot. We would have preferred him to be here, but he is not there, so we were able to handle it perfectly. “

An autonomous future?

At the January forum of the New York State Agrarian Society, Seth was awarded one of the society’s most prestigious awards: the Next Generation Farmer Award. It “honors renowned producers and industry newcomers engaged in agriculture in new and vibrant ways.”

In recent years, businesses have begun to use drones to reconnoiter crops and have adapted other technologies to put themselves above competitors. Seth says it is even open to autonomous vehicles if they can be adapted to maneuver through the highlands of western New York.

“We need to see how the sprayers will work,” he said. “Our area is very different from central Illinois. We have many hills and many odd-sized fields, fields of 3 acres and 10 acres. So we’ll look at how it all works and what the possibilities are. But yes, I think it would be interesting to have a fleet of self-propelled sprayers. “

In the long run, work is a big concern. It’s not just about his business, but also about how tougher labor regulations will affect farms in his region, many of which are his customers.

“There just won’t be a staff ready to do the job, I don’t believe it, so I don’t know what it looks like,” Seth says.

While his father laid the foundation for the business, Seth says he is working hard to adapt it to what the region’s agriculture will look like in the future.

“I had the great advantage of having a good father who did very well and I helped him, but it’s very difficult to work – that’s probably the most important thing we’ve done,” he said. “We work every day of the week and make sure we do what we say and be honest.”

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