PRINCETON, Ill. — As the complexity of hybrids and varieties
continues to increase to meet the specific needs of farmers, the number of units
of seed moving through the DuPont Pioneer Princeton Production Plant also has
“We are a bit unique because we service several territories
in northern Illinois,” explained Thelma Holmbeck, production location manager at
the plant. “And with our proximity to Chicago, we do a lot of treating and
packaging seed for international markets.”
The Princeton plant opened in 1937, when the average corn
yield was about 30 bushels per acre.
“We are one of the larger production facilities for DuPont
Pioneer with more than 30,000 seed-growing acres,” Holmbeck said. “And a high
percentage of those acres are under irrigation.”
“Those production fields are located in seven counties,”
added Rory White, F1 field operations manager at the DuPont Pioneer
Holmbeck started working at the Princeton plant as an
agronomist trainee after completing an agronomy degree at the University of
“I grew up on a hog and dairy farm near Mendota,” said
Holmbeck, who soon will mark 34 years at this facility. “The number of employees
has increased from 30 to 65, and a big reason for that is the need for more
brain and hand power to handle the complexity of our production acres.”
During harvest operations, Holmbeck said, seasonal demand
for employees increases to 120.
“During a typical day when we’re harvesting, there will be
100 trucks including both inbound with corn and outbound with the silage and
cobs,” she added.
The facility includes refrigerated storage to maintain seed
“Seed doesn’t like high heat and humidity — that will
shorten the shelf life,” Holmbeck said.
Seed is either put into bags or a Pro Box.
“We are approaching over half of our beans going into the
bulk containers,” Holmbeck noted.
The standard size of a seed bag is 30 inches long with a
“We are approaching 20 different sizes of bags because we
send seed to so many different countries,” Holmbeck said. “Typically, we put 50
bags on a skid, but we can put more on the pallets for container shipments to
Most palletizers are fully automated. However at the
Princeton plant, the palletizer is semi-automated because the plant fills
“We hire from 2,000 to 3,000 detasslers, and we reach out to
10 or 11 counties to get good labor,” said White, who initially started with
DuPont Pioneer through a college internship.
After graduating from Western Illinois University with a
degree in agronomy, he started as a production technician in 2001.
As the field operations manager, White works with four
agronomists, and he interacts with growers from the time the seed ground is
contracted through harvest.
“We have some third-generation growers,” Holmbeck said.
“One of the challenges in the detasseling area is the wide
range of philosophies of different states on the minimum age for workers,” White
noted. “In Illinois, the minimum is 12 years old, and it is 14 in Iowa, so we
already went to 13 years old in Illinois and we have a plan in place to increase
that minimum age for our workers.”
“We do a lot of mechanical detasseling, which reduces the
workload a bunch,” Holmbeck added. “But with our quality specs, it takes human
hands and eyes to determine color and to see through leaves to find the
The target to begin planting production fields is from late
April to the beginning of May.
“The soil has to be warm enough to achieve a good
established stand,” Holmbeck said.
“If we start planting in late April, then detasseling should
start around July 4,” White said. “Detasseling takes from three to four
“Last year, detasseling was long,” Holmbeck added. “The
maturity range of hybrids also affects the detasseling period.”
The harvest period typically begins around Labor Day and
encompasses about six weeks for the Princeton facility.
“Our goal is to complete harvest before we get a freeze,”
Holmbeck said. “But one year, harvest lasted over 50 days.”
Holmbeck expects the level of technology in the seed
business to continue to increase.
“It’s amazing, we still blow air through seeds to dry them,”
she said. “But I expect the automation technology and the safety equipment to
continue to advance.”
The use of drones in the agricultural industry also has
become a hot topic.
“There are lots of applications for drones, like locating
field issues, locating personnel and even locating equipment because we have so
many different pieces of equipment that are moved around to farms,” Holmbeck
Although the use of drones will depend on the regulations
established by the Federal Aviation Administration, White said he thinks they
would be helpful for targeted scouting.
“Then we could spend less time looking for disease on foot,”
Holmbeck added. “It is amazing what you can see in fields with imagery because
you don’t have to look at the good stuff. But you can see things like
compaction, and then you can target remedies for that area.”
Employees at the DuPont Pioneer plant are encouraged to get
involved with community activities such as working with 4-H and FFA programs.
“We support local festivals like the Homestead Festival and
Beef Days,” Holmbeck said. “Through our corporate giving, we help support local
fire departments, so they can purchase new equipment.
“A week ago, the Princeton Fire Department was here to
practice extractions from a flowing grain situation,” she said. “That’s
important because suffocation can happen so fast.”
“DuPont is a leader in safety,” White stressed. “We are
committed to zero safety incidents.”