T.E. O’Toole Farm Seed

In the late 1960s Richard O’Toole built a grain elevator on his farm with the idea of cleaning wheat seed for himself and some of his neighbors. Let’s just say things have changed quite a bit since then.

In 1979, after the local elevators took less of an interest in cleaning wheat seed for farmers a second elevator was built on O’Toole’s farm just west of Crystal, N.D., which allowed for an expansion of the seed cleaning and conditioning business. The elder O’Toole’s son, Brian, helped build that elevator right after he graduated from college and then worked alongside his father in both the seed cleaning and farming enterprises. In 1996 he took over the seed cleaning and conditioning business. Since that time the business has grown to a point that the two elevators used in the seed cleaning operation were no longer adequate, and a new, modern seed processing unit was constructed that now contains some of the latest technology and equipment associated with the seed cleaning and conditioning business.

Seed Cleaning PlantThe new building was constructed in 2009 with room in the building for expansion – and it didn’t take long until that expansion space was needed. At the time of this interview, Brian was nearing the completion of installing a second seed cleaning line, which is a reflection of how the business has expanded into processing other commodities.

Back in the beginning, wheat and a few other small grains were the only grains being cleaned, according to Brian. In recent years, however, even though wheat still accounts for the most bushels cleaned, the business has started cleaning soybean seed and edible beans. The new cleaning line is dedicated to soybeans and dry edible beans.

“We added a color sorter in the second line which opens up many more possibilities than what we have with just size and weight sorters,” Brian explained. “Color is a big thing, especially with beans and this far north.”

The color sorter allows them to remove the discolored beans from a lot of seed, thus removing any green soybeans that might have been damaged by frost or other factors, and the dark beans from the edible beans, which is usually a turn-off for consumers purchasing any light colored beans in the grocery store.

Seed business is a separate entity T.E. O’Toole Farm Seed is an entirely separate entity from the O’Toole Farm. In fact, the seed company contracts with the farm side of the operation for wheat seed raised on the farm. That arrangement, plus a working relationship with 12 other growers, is the main source for the wheat seed that is marketed each year. In a normal year they have about a dozen varieties on hand, including private line varieties from Westbred and AgriPro plus several public varieties. In addition, the seed plant also takes in wheat and other small grains from individual farmers and will clean and condition that for the farmer’s personal use.

“When it comes to soybeans, we are at the mercy of the soybean seed companies and the growers they have working for them,” Brian said. “Those companies contract their own growers and the growers bring their product here to have the soybean seed processed.”

A second side of the seed business has also been added. Their farm has become a collection point and storage site for pinto and black turtle beans for St. Hilaire Seed in St. Hilaire, Minn., and for navy and pinto beans for Viterra in Carmen, Manitoba, Canada. Brian’s wife, Sara, manages this side of the operation. Two large, flat storage warehouses are currently filled with over 100,000 hundredweight of edible beans from this year’s harvest.

Looking at the overall operation, Brian estimated the business conditions more than 250,000 bushels of wheat and around 150,000 bushels of soybeans on an annual basis, plus running the dry, edible bean operation.

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