Welter Seed and Honey
Keeping it in the Family
Welter Seed and Honey Company was officially started in 1955 by Herman Welter, who was dairy farming and raising a family in Northeastern Iowa, but was looking for a way to diversify his operation. “When Dad started the business he would combine clover on shares. He would receive half of the seed, and would clean, bag and sell it to area farmers,” noted Karen Knepper, Herman’s youngest of 13 children.
“For Dad, it was another source of income. He was also into beekeeping. He raised bees as an FFA project in high school. It made sense to have bees to pollinate the clover and he sold the honey locally.”
Over time the seed business continued to grow and diversify. They added oats, timothy, brome and alfalfa. Dairy and livestock production was prevalent in the area, so Herman stocked the seeds that were in demand and slowly expanded. By 1976 they built their first warehouse, which was expanded upon three times. “As customer demand has grown, so has our business,” said Karen. “It happened gradually over the years.”
As they grew, they began contracting with other farmers throughout the Midwest and beyond to grow seeds for them. The oats and clover were grown locally, the brome came from Kansas, and the alfalfa was grown out west. Welter still grows their own wheat, rye and oat seed on their own farm, which is now 1000 acres. “Long-term relationships with growers in other parts of the country, and internationally, are important to our business. That ensures quality and consistency to our customers,” noted Karen.
Over time, Welter went from a local business to one with national distribution. While they do sell and distribute seeds locally within a three hour radius of the warehouse, they have over 300 dealers throughout the US. They also do a lot of smaller orders through UPS.
In 1999, Welter started offering certified organic seed. “We were one of the first major organic seed distributors in the U.S. We were getting more and more inquiries for organic seeds, especially for oats, alfalfa and clover. We started small at first but have greatly expanded our organic line and have expanded the varieties. Organic seeds are now 20% of our total business and still growing quickly. Since we raised bees, we never sprayed much- we were always very health-minded. Organic was a natural progression for us. It was something that we believed in,” emphasized Karen.
Welter Seed is celebrating their 60th anniversary this year. Although Herman passed away in 2005, Welter Seed remains a family business. Five of Herman’s children run the business today: Jim, Dan, Ken, Les and Karen (Knepper), and Jim’s wife Denise and son Jake are also involved. Welter Seed employs 12 staff members throughout the year. In addition to the seed business, they still farm. The dairy barn burned down 17 years ago, and they made the decision then to focus on the seed business instead of rebuilding a new dairy facility. They now raise oats, wheat and rye for seed, and also corn, hay and beans for their beef herd. In the family tradition, they still raise bees and sell honey.
To keep up with the ever growing seed business, they built a new warehouse three years ago, and a new seed cleaning facility a few years before that. “One advantage we have is our ability to clean, condition and bag seed all at our facility. Other competitors don’t have the full processing capability,” noted Karen. While they have no major plans for expansion, they are increasing their seed offerings, with more varieties of small grains and forages, and more native grass seeds and pollinator habitat mixes.
They also plan to focus on the ever growing organic market. “We enjoy educating our customers and suppliers about organic seeds and the organic standards- everyone helps each other. We have no regrets about going organic. For us, organic is a good decision.”
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