Maybe the grass is greener outside of the seed and turf industry.
That could be why the descendants of grass seed pioneer Ben Jacklin are selling the $40 million-a-year company that their grandfather started more than 60 years ago.
Though Doyle Jacklin is staying on at Jacklin Seed, his brothers and co-owners of the company, Don and Duane, will leave to concentrate on family property and development interests.
Pending federal regulatory approval J.R. Simplot Co., the Boise-based billion-dollar agribusiness, will own the marketing, distribution and research operations of the company after Oct. 8. The Jacklin family will keep the property and lease it to the new Simplot-Jacklin.
Things have changed since 1926 when Ben Jacklin and his brood moved to the Inland Northwest from Wisconsin to find their fortune in agriculture. The patriarch found work as a pea breeder in Bonners Ferry. When his sons were ready to help, Ben started his own business selling pea, bean and lentil seeds to area farmers.
Starting with the first four Jacklin men in 1936, Jacklin Seed has always been a family business. With the help of sons Owen, Lyle and Arden, Jacklin built a thriving production plant in Dishman and for years provided farmers with legume seeds. But seeing opportunities to increase income and take advantage of favorable soil and irrigation conditions in Spokane County, the Jacklins soon turned their attention to grass seed.
It started on Karl Paulson’s Orchard Prairie farm in 1941 when, at the urging of Arden Jacklin, who had worked for the Soil Conservation Service, the seed company planted its first experimental grass plot. The Jacklins were the first in the region to consider raising grass seed.
Upon visiting an early flourishing field, family sources said Ben Jacklin proclaimed to his sons: “Boys, we’re going to grow a trainload of grass seed.”
They did, and much more. Today the company annually sells more than 60 million pounds of grass seed in more than 50 countries.
The family recognized the growth potential right away. After a successful first season, Arden bought land on Pleasant Prairie for grass growing and also convinced other farmers to grow grass for Jacklin Seed.
All the while, more Jacklin family members came to work for the growing company. By 1957, nine of Ben Jacklin’s 10 grandchildren worked for the seed processor. The tenth grandchild had allergies to grass and pollen.
While Ben Jacklin ran the company, Arden served as spokesman and brothers Lyle and Owen managed production and distribution. When that generation retired, Arden’s sons, Don, Doyle and Duane - known as the “Three-D’s” - stepped in.
The company went public in 1972, when it merged with Chicago-based Vaughan Seed Co. But that joint venture was short-lived. In 1983, Jacklin went private again shortly after a failed merger attempt with a California investment firm. Vaughan-Jacklin split and some of its directors formed a new corporation. The “Three-D’s” bought the family seed business back for $4.5 million.
Today Ben Jacklin’s great-grandchildren - Glenn, Gayle and Wade - continue the family involvement by working in the production, sales and marketing departments at the Jacklin Seed headquarters in Post Falls. They will stay with the newly-formed company.
What they learned about the business, and the ethic of hard work, they learned from family.
“When I was growing up, in the summertimes we didn’t see a lot of Dad,” said Glenn Jacklin, Don’s son. “He didn’t come home until late at night. But he also didn’t really bring his work home with him.”
He may have not brought his work home, but he did have his family at work.
His own twins, Gayle and Glenn, started with the company at 12. Their first job was changing sprinkler pipes in the burned bluegrass fields. “We would all pile in the front of a pickup cab at 4:30 a.m. and drive to the fields,” Gayle Jacklin recalled. “We were paid 7 cents a pipe head.”
From field work to assistant vice president of domestic marketing, Gayle Jacklin has grown with the company. So have her brother, Glenn, the operations manager who may take over some of his father’s duties, and cousin Wade, a sales representative for the company’s Medalist America turf division.
Leading the industry
In quality, marketing and research, Jacklin is one of the leading grass seed companies in the world.
Quick to recognize the potential in the international market, the Jacklins in 1983 hired Hiromi Yanagisawa to lead marketing outside the United States, particularly in the Pacific Rim. He successfully cultivated the deals that today make up about 40 percent of the company’s sales.
“Currently in Asia, from Korea and Japan all the way down to Singapore and throughout the Pacific Rim, there are 2,200 golf courses,” he said. “By 2010 everybody’s predicting the number of golf courses (in Asia) will double.
“In the last three years, we’ve been doubling export sales to China every year and we’re expecting to double again this year,” Yanagisawa said.
As a vice president and managing director of marketing for the company, Yanagisawa plans to stay when Simplot takes ownership. The new alliance could allow Jacklin to grow seed in China and Australia, he said. And the alliance would allow the seed portion of the business to gain market share and also reduce overhead costs.
The sale could also boost the already successful grass research and breeding laboratory.
“Since 1986, there’s been a big growth in our research department,” Glenn Jacklin said. “We now have four breeders that specialize in each (grass) species.”
Among them is the Chinese plant breeder Suichan Sun, who is developing bluegrass strains resistant to pests and disease. He has traveled as far as the Himalayan mountains to find grass strains in the race against his classmates at Rutgers University as to who can perfect the strain first.
The company started patenting its new grass seed varieties in the late 1960s.
Last year Jacklin Seed released “Five Steps Above,” a group of new varieties that are plusher, more durable and have a higher seed yield, thanks to the work of research director Doug Brede. “It’s just absolutely phenomenal turf,” said Glenn Jacklin. “It’s going to revolutionize the bluegrass industry.”
Joining the company with potato-growing pioneer J.R. Simplot’s firm will help research efforts and will also speed worldwide marketing of Jacklin’s seeds.
Both companies cater to the golfing market: Jacklin with seed, Simplot with fertilizers. Both companies are pushing expansion in Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
“It’s a natural alliance,” said Doyle Jacklin, when he announced the sale. “And the key of this alliance is the market in the Pacific Rim.”
The Jacklins say the sale means more research, better marketing and more land to grow grass.
“We can now be proactive, rather than reactive,” Gayle Jacklin said. Other small seed companies are joining with multimillion- and billion-dollar businesses, she said. “To survive in the future, we must take part.”
Simplot sees the deal in the same light. “This is a mutually beneficial relationship,” said Fred Zerza, vice president for public relations. “We are breaking some new ground for our products.”
Still, the union of the two companies has left some grass growers uncertain, particularly in light of the recent limits in Washington state on grass burning and the contract for a phase-out of burning that Jacklin signed with half its Rathdrum Prairie growers this summer.
“I really don’t know what to say about the deal,” said Linda Clovis, of the Intermountain Grass Growers Association. “The farmers have some concern, but there’s also some excitement.”
Jacklin has always been strong in marketing the grass seed and farmers have grown to trust the family-run company, she said.
And lately farmers are finding what used to be a stable and predictable business is now mercurial, Clovis said. “With this industry being so volatile, the change (in ownership) is going to be interesting.”
She isn’t surprised that Jacklin Seed was snatched up by a larger company. “It’s like the banking industry. There is a lot of buying up of smaller companies.”
This happens within the industry to strengthen marketing efforts and ability to do international trade, she said.
“There’s a tremendous amount of competition,” Clovis said. “You don’t see the price of grass seed going up. To make it, in some instances, you really have to find an alliance with someone who has similar interests and similar direction.”
In Washington, Kentucky bluegrass seed prices peaked in 1992 at $127 per hundredweight, but have since dropped and not recovered to the earlier high level.
Some farmers and growers are intrigued by the Jacklin sale.
“Certainly when you lose somebody you’ve been doing business with closely for a number of years, like we did with Jacklin, it’s frightening,” said Kevin Schneidmiller whose family has grown Jacklin grass seed on the Rathdrum Prairie for 40 years. “But it’s also exciting to work with a larger company.”
Doyle Jacklin, soon to be president of Jacklin-Simplot, maintains the change won’t mean much for the North Idaho farmers. The company will keep its headquarters and processing plant in Post Falls and continue business as usual. But it may mean expansion in the Columbia Basin and Southern Idaho where the company could add to the processing plants and more land might be available for grass seed farming.
Even though the family is selling the business, farmers and customers will still find the fourth generation of Jacklins at the core of the company.
“The acquisition creates a feeling of emptiness to a certain degree, merely because I’m used to having family members by my side,” Gayle Jacklin said. “I am so glad that I have Glenn, my twin brother and unspoken soul mate, to share this future endeavor with.”
The Jacklins will continue to be highly active in the Post Falls community. Almost every agriculture group and many non-farming groups in the Inland Northwest have had a Jacklin as a member.
The Clean Lakes Coordinating Council in Idaho, the Private Industry Council, the Idaho Crop Improvement Association, advisory boards to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Washington State University, the Kootenai Medical Center Foundation, even the National Welsh Pony Association are just a few of the groups a Jacklin has either served or led.
The family also plays a key role in the economic development of Post Falls where the company moved its headquarters in 1978.
Don and Duane Jacklin will put their energies into the hospitality business and commerce park the family owns. They will stay busy.
The family owns some of the most valuable real estate in town: land that fronts I-90 on the north and south sides of the highway. As buildings sprout along that strip, part of which belongs to the Riverbend Commerce Park, the Jacklins will be even busier. The land already holds a Factory Outlet mall and a dog racing track. The University of Idaho is developing a research campus nearby.
“Our working with Jacklin has been with the development of the Riverbend industrial park more than anything else,” said Peter Fischer, economic development specialist with the Idaho Department of Commerce. “With the University of Idaho involved there now, it gives a tremendous opportunity for Northern Idaho to start attracting high-tech companies.”
Jacklin Properties announced last week it would build a 35,600-square-foot building in the commerce park and lease part of it to the UI.
“The grass seed industry was a pretty quiet part of their influence in the community,” said Jim Hammond, Post Falls city administrator. “More, their effort to develop industrial parks has really had an effect on the community. And that’s where I still see them playing a key role.”
“Look at how long and hard those brothers have worked,” said Linda Clovis of the IGGA. “They probably don’t want to keep fighting the same battles … and now they’re in the perfect position with developing and their land.”
Others in the community agree.
“We’ll miss the opportunity to work with the Jacklins individually,” said farmer Kevin Schneidmiller. “But we don’t blame them at all. You can’t pass up an opportunity like this one.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 photos (1 color) Staff graphic: Jacklin Seed Company - Company facts
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: KEY EVENTS IN THE HISTORY OF JACKLIN SEED CO. 1926 - The Jacklin family, led by Ben Jacklin, migrates from Wisconsin to the Inland Northwest. Trained in agriculture at the University of Wisconsin, Jacklin takes takes a job as a pea breeder. 1936 - Jacklin, his sons Owen, Lyle and Arden start the Jacklin Seed Company in the Spokane Valley. They sell navy bean, lentil and pea seeds to area farmers. They build their first warehouse in Dishman. 1941 - The Jacklins plant their first experimental grass plot on the Karl Paulson farm in Orchard Prairie. 1946 - The company starts leasing farms to raise its own seed in addition to milling and selling other farmers’ seeds. 1959 - Founder and patriarch Ben Jacklin dies. 1960s - The company starts patenting varieties of grass seeds. 1966 - Arden Jacklin’s twin sons Don and Doyle come to work for the company. 1972 - Jacklin Seed Co. merges with Chicago-based Vaughan Seed Co. As the Vaughan-Jacklin Corp., their stock is traded over the counter on the New York Stock Exchange. The family keeps ownership of the land and buildings, leasing them to Vaughan-Jacklin. 1978 - Out of room at the Dishman plant, Vaughan-Jacklin moves to Post Falls site adjacent to I-90. 1981 - Riverbend Commerce Park plans are under way. 1982 - Jacklin enters into cooperative agreements with other major seed companies worldwide. 1983 - The Jacklin division of Vaughan-Jacklin Corp. is sold to Doyle, Duane and Don Jacklin for $4.5 million. The company becomes private again. 1989 - The Jacklin brothers open the 71-room Riverbend Inn in Post Falls. 1991 - Founder Owen Jacklin dies. 1994 - Brothers Arden and Lyle Jacklin, founders of the company, die. 1995 - Business relationship with J.R. Simplot Co. begins. 1997 - The Jacklin brothers sell Jacklin Seed Co. to Simplot for cash, but keep the land and equipment with plans to lease to the purchaser. Doyle Jacklin stays as head of the Jacklin operations and his brothers, Don and Duane, refocus on the family-owned hospitality business and Riverbend Commerce Park. - Hannelore Sudermann