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Agrilead, Inc. of Russell was recently featured in an article by Northwest Kansas Today Magazine. The magazine, created by the Dane G. Hansen Foundation, is distributed via mail to homes across northwest Kansas.

This article focused on three businesses that are helping to transform agriculture through advances in technology and methodology.

(RUSSELL) – The sea of swaying, brilliant green wheat plants that surrounded Jeff Ochampaugh as he stood in a test field in late May appeared to be a living testament to the effectiveness of what he does.

“We did everything to this field that we would recommend doing,” he said. Ochampaugh, president of Agrilead in Russell, specializes in caring for seeds. In 2014, his company launched its portfolio of seed care products “and we haven’t taken our foot off the gas since.”

Agrilead makes liquid polymer and dry powder coatings that can be mixed with seed treatments to make them stay on the seed better and improve the flow of seeds through planters.

Pesticides, fungicides and nematicides – which control pests in the soil that attack plant roots – as well as fertilizers and biological products that promote germination and enhance plant growth can be applied to the seed. Whatever treatment farmers want can be mixed with Agrilead’s products to give the seed a uniform coat.

In 2020, the company grew to 10 employees, including Russell native Gage Nichols, who graduated in December with a master’s in grain science from Kansas State University. Nichols is manager of research and development. In the lab where he works are drawers containing samples of a variety of seeds that Agrilead products have been applied to, including garbanzo beans, cotton seed, canola, rice and radish seed. In May, he was kicking off a project at the request of South Carolina peanut growers to see if Agrilead products could be used to enhance growth of peanuts.

“That’s an important part of our business – that pipeline – having a lot of hopeful projects going,” Ochampaugh said.


Gage Nichols, manager of research and development, and Jeff Ochampaugh, president, discuss differences observed in soybean plants grown from treated and untreated seed during a recent experiment at Agrilead.

Pick your color

In this area of the country, Agrilead’s products are more likely to be used at co-ops or seed dealerships on seeds for soybeans or wheat.

“We estimate we’re going to get our product on somewhere between 7 and 8 million acres of soybeans this year across the Midwest,” he said.

Seeds are treated in a continuous flow process that typically coats 1,200 pounds of seed per minute, Ochampaugh said.
Sometimes it is done while the farmer is standing there, and sometimes it is completed in advance.

He said treating seed is a lot like painting – the quality of the application involves coverage, cure, and finish.

Agrilead seed finishes also include colorants. Environmental Protection Agency regulations require that if a seed is treated with a pesticide, it must also impart an unnatural color to make it easily recognizable. Bright colors also make it easier for farmers to spot seeds in the ground when checking planting depth and spacing. Plus, they just look cool.

“At trade shows, we talk about a seed that flows, shows, shines, and plants better,” Ochampaugh said. He said 90 percent of treated seeds are red, but they also provide green, blue, yellow, violet, purple and orange at the request of the co-op.

“We had a seed care operator in Illinois who was a breast cancer survivor, and we worked up a pink formulation for her,” he said. “It was a little something special that her customers thought was great. It’s OK to have fun every now and then.”

Making farming safer

Agrilead’s wheat finisher, called Impress, is particularly good for reducing the amount of dust that comes off the seed, he said.

“When you’re augering wheat into the drill, you get this red dust that comes off,” he said. “It can be a concern for worker exposure and an environmental hazard.”

Pixy, one of Agrilead’s first products, is a powder finish used on soybeans that received its name from customers. “It was experimental and didn’t have a name, but every one of our customers said, ‘I’m interested in that pixie dust.’ ” he said.

Ochampaugh said since then a low- dust formulation called Pizazz has been patented, and a third-generation product is under development. Before any of the products reach the market, they are extensively tested in field trials across various growing regions.

“My city friends are concerned at times about the impacts of agriculture on our environment,” he said. “I don’t blame them for wondering about these things, but I can testify that during the course of my career, we’ve made huge leaps forward.”

(Article and photos courtesy of Erin Mathews, Northwest Kansas Today Magazine and the Dane G. Hansen Foundation.)

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