Gregg Sauder could be on a beach sipping a Mai Tai right now after selling Precision Planting for $250 million in 2012. But that’s just not in his DNA. An unrelenting drive and passion to help farmers succeed pushes him to keep grinding.
“We’re probably working harder now than we’ve ever worked in our lives, and I felt like we were pretty busy before,” says Sauder, who founded Precision Planting with his wife, Cindy, in 1993. “It was never a question of whether we’re going to take this income and just relax. The question was how can we change ag?
“It’s not easy to start over and we had a great team of individuals at Precision Planting. You quickly learn in business it’s never about yourself. It’s about the team that surrounds you. We built Precision Planting one step at a time from the ground up. When we started 360, I realized I don’t have all that much more time, so we did the opposite and started from the top down. I enjoy the challenge of getting the company where it needs to be. We’ve brought in the right talent, and it’s working out for us.”
Sauder is a farmer who became an inventor out of necessity. Before his Precision Planting days, he spent many sleepless nights worrying about a five-figure financial hole and inaccurate planters costing him yield.
“Lord, I didn’t marry Cindy to bankrupt her,” Sauder recalls praying one night.
The light bulb flickered in 1993 when Sauder started planting 20-inch narrow row corn.
“Planters weren’t designed to do that,” he recalls. “We immediately started to reinvent the meter so it would singulate at that low RPM. Once I jumped in, I said, ‘Man, these meters need a lot of help.’ Pretty soon neighbors were asking, ‘Can you do mine?’ We started custom setting planters, and it just took off from there.
“I was never satisfied with the way equipment ran. I can remember long before we even had a farm shop, I’d be laying out in a white rock drive, with nothing but a vice grip and a crescent wrench, trying to re-shape, re-build and re-weld. I’ve always enjoyed that side of it.”
Fast forward to 2012, Sauder made the most of another adverse situation. He launched his 2nd company, 360 Yield Center, after a drought caused the worst season in the history of his family farm in Tremont, Ill. The goal was to equip his farm, and others across the Midwest, with the tools needed to knock Mother Nature’s curveballs out of the park.
“360 Yield Center is all about nitrogen,” he says. “We spent our lives working with planter attachments but when we started 360 Yield Center, we knew that nutrients by the plant is where the future’s going to be. We focused all our technology and engineering efforts around nitrogen.”
360 Yield Center delivers innovative ways to use nitrogen — making sure more nutrients are available to the plants when needed.
Sauder has three words of advice for other small business owners beginning their journey — don’t give up.
“The first farm show I ever went to, a prominent businessman said to us, ‘You’ll never make it.’ I just smiled because he didn’t know the constitution of Gregg and Cindy. We home schooled our kids because we traveled, and they were raised at farm shows. Cindy is 90% of the reason for my success. She wouldn’t give up. She knew the business and we’d work until 1 o’clock in the morning in a motel processing invoices while the kids were sleeping.
“We need small businesses. If we think the Deeres, Cases, Kubotas and AGCOs have all the answers, we’re mistaken. We need small inventors of products who are willing to take a shot.”
Visit www.farm-equipment.com/innovators-docuseries to view this and the other episodes in the series.