‘Blessed to be a part of a great industry’
By KRISS NELSON
From pulling weeds out in the bean field to a new position on the board of the Iowa Seed Association, it is safe to say Chris Latham has just about done it all within the seed industry.
During the Iowa Seed Association (ISA) annual meeting earlier this year, Latham, Chief Financial Officer of Latham Hi-Tech Seeds was named 2020 ISA Board of Directors President.
He has served as a board member since 2017.
Latham said he grew up right next to the Latham Seed plant in Alexander where he would walk and ride beans, rouged beans, bagged beans and more.
“Pretty much anything with soybeans,” he said, as during that time, Latham Seeds was a soybean-only company.
After high school, Latham graduated from Drake University in Des Moines with a major in finance. It was then, he decided to take a break from the farm and his family’s company and took on a career in banking in commercial credit for a publicly traded bank while also earning his MBA at Iowa State University during the weekends.
Later, Latham had the opportunity to work in two medium sized privately owned businesses in the manufacturing and data management industries which included roles as Chief Financial Officer.
Latham never stayed far from the family business, however, as he worked during the nights and weekends to help start Latham Hi-Tech Hybrids – the family corn company that was founded in 2004. In 2008, the older generation of Bill Latham, Don Latham and Tom Latham decided to retire, allowing the third generation, including Latham, his brother John Latham and his wife Shannon to purchase the soybean business and merge the corn and soybean business into one company.
Latham said his route to the seed industry was unconventional, but feels fortunate to see the seed industry through a different lens of being in both the inside and outside of agriculture.
“I feel like having been outside agriculture, it gives me a deeper level of respect and appreciation for the American farmer. The range of topics a farmer is required to understand is truly jaw-dropping,” he said.
Although Latham’s official role is Chief Financial Officer at Latham Hi-Tech Seeds, he is also known within the company as the IT person as well. As Latham Seeds has grown, more of the IT role has been able to be outsourced to Next Generation Technologies (NGT), but he still enjoys working with the latest technologies and keeping the company up-to-date with the latest software and solutions.
Since joining the two family companies (corn and soybeans) in 2009, Latham Seeds has enjoyed overall market share growth each year. Latham said that’s been hard to do in an increasingly competitive market place.
“We’re not a hurry-and-grow type company,” he said. “We believe in sustainable and long-term growth and have the luxury of keeping our eye on the ball of delivering high-quality seed with a focus on the customer’s profitability. That doesn’t always make us the cheapest seed, but year-over-year, we’ve been able to deliver on yield and profitability.”
Unlike many companies, Latham said that are focused on mergers and heavy investments, Latham Hi-Tech Seeds believes in staying light and nimble which has allowed them to react to changing times quicker.
As a family owned business, he said their perspective is also longer-term, which also helps with that focus.
“We are not trying to grow fast just to grow,” he said. “We pride ourselves in having a long term vision, yet one of our strategies are we have got to be flexible too. We are now in our third generation as a family owned seed company and we are hoping to get it to the fourth and fifth generation.”
Iowa Seed Association
Latham said while other state seed associations have floundered or merged with other organizations, the Iowa Seed Association has remained in tact.
“The board has undergone some strategic initiatives to really figure out our place,” he said. “In an industry with fewer seed companies, we’ve asked ourselves how we can better serve the industry here in Iowa.”
Seed associations, Latham said, at the national level have taken on the role of lobbying as more decisions are made at the federal level. While at ISA they continue to watch for state legislation that affects our industry
“Our focus at the ISA has shifted a little to try and reach more people within the industry,” he said.
The Iowa Seed Association is the first ag-related board that Latham has been on, however, he has attended the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA)’s Storm the Hill event to help lobby on behalf of the seed industry.
Outside of agriculture, Latham was on the board of directors of Mainstream Living for 6 years and finished as its chairman of the board. Mainstream Living provides residential housing for those with intellectual disabilities. MSL has over 500 employees in Story and Polk County.
Latham said he has a big appreciation for what farmers do.
“There are good people in the industry doing great jobs and we feel blessed to be a part of a great industry,” he said.
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