“There are tremendous opportunities in ag today, if one is willing to look outside the box for those value-added services and products.”
—Jim Girardin Jr.
ARROW SEED is firmly rooted in Girardin family
Leonard Girardin moved his family to Custer county in 1946 to manage the Broken Bow Division of a regional seed company he would rename Arrow Seed.
Now, 70 years later, his son Jim Girardin Sr. has retired from the business; grandson Jim Girardin Jr. is the president of Arrow Seed; and great-grandson Logan Girardin, who joined the family business in March 2015, is a retail sales associate.
Generations one and two: A seedsman and his son
When the original seed company went bankrupt in 1954, Leonard Girardin recognized the potential of the Broken Bow locale and purchased the division he had been managing. Leonard Girardin owned and operated Arrow Seed until his passing in 1977. At that time Jim Girardin Sr., who came to the business after he graduated from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in 1959, took over. “It was his lifelong career, passion and love. Well, the business and my mom,” said Jim Girardin Jr.
The third generation: An uncertain successor
Jim Girardin Jr. said he probably wasn’t fully aware of everything that made up Arrow Seed in the 60s and 70s, but he had a pretty good idea. “I learned to sweep floors and stack seed very well,” he said. Despite his sweeping and stacking skills, Jim Girardin Jr.’s future in the family business seemed somewhat unlikely because of his severe allergies. “I had hay fever pretty bad, and all of the seed dust made working around the plant very difficult back then.”
After high school graduation, Jim Girardin Jr. enrolled in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln—a decision undoubtedly influenced by his early experience with the family business and growing up in an ag community. He earned a bachelor’s degree in agronomy in 1983 and went on to complete graduate work in the area of turfgrass research. Along the way, two of his advisers kept him interested in grasses: Emeriti Professors of Agronomy Lowell Moser, a range scientist, and Robert “Bob” C. Shearman, a turfgrass scientist. “They were solid role models who fostered my interest in grass.”
A year working at the Lincoln Country Club during college also helped make Jim Girardin Jr. a self-proclaimed turf guy. “That’s really what got me excited about being a golf course superintendent.” From 1985 through 1994, Jim Girardin Jr. was a golf course superintendent at Riverside Golf Club in Grand Island, and it looked like he had established a career for himself apart from Arrow Seed.
However, the small-town seed company called him home, and son followed father into the business. After several years working side by side, Jim Girardin Sr. turned the reins over to Jim Girardin Jr. in 2011. “I would like to thank my father for the opportunity he gave me and for growing the company from the 1970s to the 2000s. He really taught me the meaning of being a seedsman—one who not only sells seed but helps the customer select the best seed for their needs and provides sound advice for using the seed successfully.”
Keeping the business on target
In the 1940s and 50s, the agricultural landscape in the area was primarily dryland farming, and there was significant seed production for alfalfa, clovers and grasses. “It made sense to locate a seed company in Custer County,” Jim Girardin Jr. said.
As irrigation was introduced to the area in the 1960s and 70s, cropping practices and patterns changed and much of that seed production moved away. But Arrow Seed stayed. “Our business really fits the area now because we’re primarily a forage-based company, and the ultimate consumers of our products—the beef cow, the dairy cow, the cow-calf pair—are here,” he said.
“The ultimate goal of our business is to provide the farmer/rancher with the best forage options for his or her herd.” To this end, Jim Girardin Jr. noted that “the University of Nebraska Extension has been a tremendous asset both to us and to the Nebraska cattle industry.”
He also credited the university’s breeding programs for their instrumental role in developing crops important to Arrow Seed: native grasses, small grains, soybeans and buffalograss. According to Jim Girardin Jr., the buffalograss breeding program at Nebraska is “light years ahead of any other program in the country.” Without a doubt, investing in the science behind the seeds is one of the secrets to the success of Arrow Seed. The basic products when the company started were alfalfa, clovers, pasture grass and small grains. In addition to those forage seeds, Arrow Seed now markets a turfgrass seed line for applications in golf, lawns, parks and sports turfs along with native grasses and wildflowers used in conservation and habitat plantings. The company’s newest product lines—food plots, cover crops and field peas—utilize many of the same species, just in a different way to a different consumer. Referring to the seeds selected for the food plots, Jim Girardin Jr. said, “We have a lot of experience in all of those plants; we’re just adapting them to a different kind of livestock.” Similarly, the cover crops used to improve soil health are oftentimes the same species used for forage.
“There are tremendous opportunities in ag today, if one is willing to look outside the box for those value-added services and products,” he said.