By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
URSA, Ill. -- A recent expansion project will allow an Ursa-based business to provide even more careful seed handling to ensure germination in the field.
Lewis Seed Farms recently installed a new seed treatment facility -- and showed off the equipment, along with other recent expansion work, at a open house Friday.
"Now we can put it to work," said Shawn Lewis, operations and production manager for Lewis Seed Farms. "It's ready to go."
Lewis said the business doubled its office space in the past two years and twice increased its warehouse space, first for finished bag storage and then to house the seed treating equipment, while adding three or four employees bringing the total staff to 23.
The projects, particularly the new seed treatment facility, "will give us more flexibility on the seed treatments we offer," Lewis said. "From a customer's perspective, we can take untreated seed and treat within a short amount of time, depending what time of year it is, and can certainly give customers more flexibility on seed treatment choices and timing."
Ursa farmer Scott Wray said he appreciates what the company can offer in treating seed.
"Being able to do it on demand instead of prepackage more fits your individual order," he said. "It also kind of allows you to change with the season. If you don't have something ordered and treated, you can go ahead and have it treated."
Lewis Seed Farms is a leading seed producer and packager supporting Lewis Hybrids, the sales arm of the company headed by Shawn's brother Scott, which serves customers primarily in West-Central Illinois and Missouri and some parts of Iowa and Nebraska.
The new seed treatment facility features conveyors, scaling and handling equipment and a state-of-the-art AutoTreat automation system from seed source to load-out from KSi Conveyor's Inc., and a high-capacity Bayer CropScience drum treater.
The facility also includes innovative loss-in-weight liquid stands that allow chemicals to be batched directly from storage kegs, "a closed container system, which means it's safer handling for our employees as well," Lewis said.
"It basically is the most advanced and accurate seed handling and seed treatment equipment in the industry, and accuracy is a big part of that, making sure the chemicals are applied accurately," Lewis said.
Chemicals must be applied to seed very accurately, with label application rates as precise as milligrams of active chemical ingredient per individual seed.
The expansions are the latest by the company, established in 1946, to reinvest in the local economy for future growth.
"It's absolutely wonderful for our community anytime a business like this expands and modernizes," said Ursa resident Dick Harshman, who turned out for the open house.
"The idea of producing seed hasn't changed for years, but how it's done has changed dramatically over the last five years with biotech and the research being done, automation," Lewis said. "We try to stay up on the latest equipment to be more efficient and produce the highest quality seed we can."
Lewis also showcased another modernization for the business -- a fully automatic bulk box washer he developed with the help of H&B Quality Tooling, Kwiki Car Wash of Quincy and Mel's Electric.
"It's a work in progress," Lewis said. "We may try to patent some parts of the process."
The one-of-a-kind equipment, separated by a long curtain from the seed treating area, will help streamline the cleaning process for the more than 5,000 bulk boxes shipped out annually to growers with seed and returned after planting season.
"That's a lot to clean by hand," Lewis said.
Frank W. Lewis, Shawn Lewis' grandfather, started selling soybean, wheat and oat seed as a sole proprietor in 1946 to help local farmers improve crop yields. Frank Lewis's grandsons now oversee the business, with the same goal of helping customers.
"We have a pretty good customer relationship and customer base in the local area," Lewis said. "If it wasn't for the local customers, we couldn't be able to do this. We provide a good product and service to customers, and in turn, they still support local business as well."
Lewis said the business may see more expansion in the future.
"We've got other things we may be looking at in the next couple years, more toward some packaging automation equipment," Lewis said. "As our business grows, some of the automation is necessary to keep up with production."