ALBERT LEA SEED
A LOCALLY OWNED & INDEPENDENT FARM SEED COMPANY
MOVING TO EMPLOYEE OWNERSHIP
Albert Lea Seed has grown to 40 full-time employees who serve more than 6,000 customers every year. Founded in 1923 by Lou Ehrhardt, the business has been owned and operated by the Ehrhardt family for three generations. Current co-owners Mac, Tom, and Margaret Ehrhardt took over operational control in 2000.
In 2021, the company established a stock-ownership structure to transition business ownership to three current employees (Matt Helgeson, Ben Hinueber, and Elia Romano) and one former employee (Bob Atwell). The Ehrhardts will continue to be majority shareholders for several years, but majority stock ownership will be turned over to employees thereafter.
“We wanted to maintain the integrity of Albert Lea Seed as an independent and local business and to offer the best outcomes—both for the employees who have helped us build this business, and for our customers,” explained Mac Ehrhardt.
Albert Lea Seed will continue to provide the same high-quality and variety of organic and non-GMO farm seed to our customers. Our commitment to sustainable farming remains intact.
“Our employees, our customers, and our community are best served by having our business owned by the people who run it and who live in the communities we serve,” Mac added. “The success and growth of Albert Lea Seed is due to the hard work and dedication of people who have worked here in the past, and our current employees. I firmly believe that this transition offers the best opportunity to maintain our business momentum and to reward the people who have built it.”
Albert Lea Seed was founded in 1923, beginning life as a branch location of the Wedge Nursery in Albert Lea, Minnesota. One of the Wedge boys (Ralph) recruited his brother-in-law, a farmer, into the business back in 1923. That farmer was Lou Ehrhardt.
Lou soon purchased the retail side of the business realizing he liked the business better than he liked farming. He set up shop on Broadway Avenue in downtown Albert Lea in a corner slice of Gulbrandson Hardware. He sold farm seed, melons, goldfish, cut flowers, apples, Christmas trees – whatever customers needed. Lou even resold potatoes that had been hit by an early frost after slicing off the bad parts.
He stored seed corn on cobs on the third floor of the Skinner-Chamberlain Building, which is now Brick Furniture. When hybrid corn was first released, it was in high demand. He decided he better prepare to meet that demand, so he had a drying and grading plant built on old Highway 65, now Stevens Street.
Meanwhile, Lou had corn hybrids produced, mainly in Waseca. Seed House employees would travel there to detassel corn, and among that first detasseling crew was a high school kid named George Ehrhardt, Lou’s son.
Saturday nights were the big night for sales as famers and their families made their weekly shopping trek into town. Founder Lou Ehrhardt always sharply dressed up in shirt and tie and established a legacy of great customer service.
At harvest, the corn was hauled to Albert Lea to be binned, dried, graded, and bagged at the new facility – just in time, too, as Gulbrandson Hardware rented their entire building to Montgomery Ward. Lou consolidated the sales side into the new grading plant and even managed to mail out a seed price list each spring. The business continued to grow.
After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, young George returned home and continued learning the ropes of the seed game, eventually taking an active management role in 1950 with Lou. In 1974, the Ehrhardts bought the old Smith Douglas fertilizer plant and became handy with sandblasters and aluminum paint to help restore the building, which remains the current location of Albert Lea Seed.
Back then, Tom and Mac Ehrhardt weren’t quite teenagers. Neither one of them thought they’d grow up to take over the business. Flash forward to 2019. Building on Lou Ehrhardt’s initial entrepreneurial vision of producing hybrid corn, Albert Lea Seed has grown into a well-recognized provider of a full range of conventional non-GMO and organic farm seed.
Tom and Mac Ehrhardt, grandsons of Lou Ehrhardt, still help operate the Seed House, alongside the new employee owners.
The Albert Lea Seed facility has expanded, the customer base has grown, and our legacy of one-on-one customer service remains a top priority.
Farmers and growers like you have appreciated our prices and respected our simple, fair approach to farm seed that doesn’t involve hidden deals. We have expanded our genetic options, increased access to traits and seed treatments, and offer new financing and other services. Today, you will find elite genetics and leading-edge technologies from all the major genetic suppliers at prices up to 40% less than the major seed brands.
We maintain professional memberships with the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association, America Seed Trade Association, Western Seed Association, Sustainable Farming Association, both the National and the Minnesota Corn and Soybean Growers Associations, and the Independent Professional Seedsmen Association. In addition, we are Certified Organic Processors meeting the National Organic Program standards for processing organically-raised grains, soybeans, and other field crops.
We have been located at our current location since 1976. Our plant is designed to process three lines of seed products simultaneously. The facility has expanded grain storage capacity of 350,000 bushels and maintains 100,000 square feet of warehouse space. Seed produced and conditioned by the Albert Lea Seed House has been grown and labeled in accordance with the rules and inspections established by the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association for certified conventional and certified organic seed.