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“The seed” was the start of everything they do today at Roberts Seed, Inc. said Leisha Roberts. In 1987, Leisha Roberts and her husband, Joe, began cleaning grass seed for the new Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The rest is history with “seed” at the center.

Today, Roberts Seed, based out of Axtell, Nebraska, is a specialty grain and grain-related products company that supplies certified organic and non-GMO grain and grain-related products for food, seed and feed markets.

“When we started, Joe harvested pure stands of big bluestem grass, Indian grass and switchgrass, and then cleaned and tested the seed,” she recalled. “We also cleaned oat seed and soybean seed in the spring and winter wheat seed in the fall for farmers in a six-county area.”

Roberts said they also went through the steps to grow certified and registered seed through the Nebraska Crop Improvement Association in 1989 and have been with NCIA since that time.

“Then, in 1991, a farmer asked if we could clean his specialty grain that had been produced without chemicals and was certified organic,” she said. “It’s the same cleaning procedure to clean the product, so we went through the process of being certified organic.”

Through the years, the Roberts have cleaned truckloads of many different kinds of seed — as small as Teff grass, which is 1.3 million seeds per pound, to as large as food-grade blue corn, which is 1,700 seeds per pound.

Roberts said the process almost always begins with an air screen cleaner, which uses airflow and a dry sifting and scalping process to remove foreign matter and broken or light test weight seeds. The goal is a uniform product.

Roberts Seed can separate seeds by size, shape, weight, density, roundness, length, color and in some cases, texture. Depending on the differences between seeds and grains, incoming conditions and customer specifications, a load of seeds may require up to four processing machines to achieve the desired end result, she explained.

Once ready, the product can be picked up in bulk or shipped via bulk, mini bulk bags or 50-pound bags, depending on quantity and final destination. Roberts Seed ships domestically and internationally.

Much of the seed processing happens at the Roberts Seed main location in Axtell. However, they also offer multiple portable cleaners for processing at customers’ locations, Roberts said. In the past, the Roberts’ have set up their cleaner at bin sites and customer’s facilities across the Midwest — just last year, they traveled to Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota and all over Nebraska, cleaning rye or triticale that Roberts said many conventional farmers are using for cover crops.

“Each cover crop root creates pores in the soil. The roots allow water to filter deep into the ground. As a result, they help conserve water in several ways,” Roberts explained. “They also can help break weed cycles and prevent diseases. If you have a soil problem, planting the right cover crop can help improve soil condition.

“Cover crops are often referred to as ‘green manure’ and ‘living mulches’ because they provide nutrients to the soil much like manure does.”

Roberts said another service they provide is grain separating, including grain that has been mixed by human or mechanical error.

“Now we are also separating some cover crop grains that are grown together that the farmer may want separated to sell as a cash crop or to be replanted as separate cover crops,” she added.

For seed sales, they sell seed corn, soybeans, pea seed, summer forages, wheat and cover crops to area farmers. They also carry several lines of seed that are certified organic for organic farmers. Their cover crop seed can be blended into mixes for spring, summer or fall planting.

Joe and Leisha’s son, Nate, also works the family business with his parents and does much of the traveling with the portable cleaners.

In the future, Roberts said, they want to continue to share their knowledge and help others with that critical “seed” at the center of everything they do.

“We are driven to make sure we continue to be a quality, trusted grain processor and seed provider for those we serve,” Roberts said.

Kerry Hoffschneider can be reached at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.

Kerry Hoffschneider is a freelance writer for the Midwest Messenger, based in eastern Nebraska. Reach her at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.