THE ‘KING’ OF THE SEED WORLD
The story began in the 1930s when a seed cleaning facility was built in a converted log house on the family farm of Napoleon and Gerard King in Pain Court, ON. The business operated under the name N. and G. King Seed Co.
In 1938, Napoleon King travelled to the American Midwest (Wisconsin and Indiana) to see corn hybrids growing, and crafted a deal to produce four-way hybrids known as Illinois 366, Iowa 931 and an early Ohio variety. That year, he grew 15 acres of the corn hybrids.
He then sold the late maturity seed, primarily to neighbours.
“At $8 to $10 a bushel, farmers thought it was pretty expensive, but the corn was very impressive and everyone came to see it,” King later recalled.*
ABOVE: Nap King (right) is shown here with Phil Caron, his early partner.
Working in conjunction with an experimental farm in Harrow, King eventually developed the K 300 hybrid, the first licensed variety developed in Canada.
By 1939, hybrid seed corn was being planted by Kent County farmers and Nap King was at the forefront of the industry as the first field of seed was harvested.
In 1941, The Windsor Daily Star carried a story under the heading of “Homemade Corn Drying Plant in Kent Embodies New Principles – Built at Pain Court By Youthful Dealer – Capacity of 3,000 Bushels, It Requires Staff of Seven; Napoleon King Finds It Attracts Business.”
According to the article, the new plant would “prove the salvation of the corn grower,” and would handle seed from the 300 acres contracted with growers. The article also noted that, “contracts for the 1941 crop will likely be on a bushel basis rather than on acreage.”*
Meanwhile, in the U.S., the PRIDE company introduced a new hybrid (PRIDE D66) in 1944, generating new interest in and an expansion of the company.
In 1950, the American PRIDE line of seed was taken on by the King Company, with extensive plot testing to determine the lines best adapted to Canada.
In 1961, Nap’s son Paul joined the family business and became vice-president of the PRIDE Seed Corn Division. He played a key role in the growth of the largest private seed research program in Canada, and as a trade ambassador for the company travelled to Europe, South America and the Pacific Rim, licensing King products and establishing important contacts.**
In 1965, Northrup King franchised the Canadian branch of the PRIDE operation, as well as 12 north-eastern states in a renewal of the agreement signed back in 1950.
In 1970, the company made the decision to initiate a research program, and the following year a corn milling operation was built and established in Chatham.
In 1976, a new property was purchased across the road from the Pain Court facility and the farm service division was organized. An 850,000 bushel grain elevator was built on the property.
In 1978, the first corn hybrids from the King breeding program were licensed in Canada and two years later, King Grain Limitada in Chile was set up to provide a winter nursery and seed multiplication services for the company’s research program.
In 1983 King Grain U.S.A. was launched and Michigan was added to the agreement with PRIDE/NK. The PRIDE trademark was transferred to King Grain for Canada the same year, and the following year, the first varieties from the King soybean breeding program were licensed (KG 20 and KG 30).
In 1988, after 54 years of operation as a family business, Kingroup Inc. was sold to French pharamaceutical company ELF Sanofi.
The Semences PRIDE Quebec dealer sales network was established in 1989 and the next year, the U.C.O. seed corn processing plant on Highway 2 outside of Chatham was purchased.
However, PRIDE had been a presence in Quebec since the 1950s and the King Company was the first to introduce grain corn production into the province.
In recognition of this, Nap King was recognized by Quebec’s Minister of Agriculture with an award as the Father Of Grain Corn In Quebec .
In 1991, the U.S. operations were sold to Stine Seed Co. of Iowa, and a western Canada sales manager was hired to further bolster the company’s ongoing efforts in developing this market for early corn varieties.
In 1992, Paul King left the company, but not before seeing its expansion, and was later recognized with honorary life memberships in the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association, Canadian Seed Trade Association and the International Seed Federation, for which he served as international president from 1990 to 1992.
And, in 2009, King was inducted into the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame, recognizing his commitment not only to the Canadian seed industry, but to the broader field of agriculture in Canada as well. And, he was recognized locally with induction into the Kent Agriculture Hall of Fame in 1996.
In 1994, King Agro’s Canadian seed operation was sold to Groupe Limagrain of France.
In 1998 the first Roundup Ready soybeans were sold (PS 86 RR), and the following year, the first Bt (YieldGard) corn was sold (K157Bt and K407Bt).
In 1999, while the King Agro Inc. legal name changed to Limagrain Genetics Inc., the products continued to be marketed under the PRIDE Seeds brand.
In 2000 Groupe Limagrain and KWS Saat Ag of Germany merged their North American corn and soybeans operations, creating AgReliant Genetics.
Having acquired the Great Lakes corn brand distribution rights for Canada in 2001, in 2002 AgReliant announced it would move forward with one brand – PRIDE – for Canada, eliminating the Great Lakes brand.
In 2004, PRIDE installed a fully-automated palletizer, the first of its kind in Canada. A new PRIDE logo was launched in 2004, focusing on the stylized ‘P’ by which PRIDE Seeds is identified today.
In 2005, AgReliant purchased its Chatham plant.
The same year, PRIDE founder Napoleon U. Roy (King), died at the age of 93.
Among the many recognitions he had received in his life were honourary life memberships in the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association (1972) and the Canadian Seed Trade Association (1982), as well as the Queen’s Jubilee Medal (1977) and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture & Food Centennial Award (1988). He was also inducted into the Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame (2007) and the Kent Agricultural Hall of Fame (1989).
In 2006, PRIDE announced its new T.R.S. (Total Ration Solutions) strategy for livestock rations.
In 2009, PRIDE Seeds celebrated its 60th anniversary with a special celebration at which Paul King spoke.
He told those on hand that any success the company had achieved could be attributed to, “a lot of hard work… The PRIDE business was founded by two families; the (Dick) Metcalf family in Wisconsin and by my father, Nap King. And that foundation was based on friendship,” said King. “It was a lot of hard work, but it was a lot of friendships too. And those friendships extended to the vendors.”***
In 2010, a significant upgrade of the company’s soybean processing facility was undertaken. The project included enhancements to the bagging and box filling stations, the inclusion of red and white dust aspiration systems and new holding bins for the finished product. A new state of-the-art treater and a new treatment storage and prep room helped underscore the company’s commitment to the soybean component of the seed business and employee safety.
In 2011, the first G2 and G8 RIB were bagged, and in the winter of 2014, the first triple pro RIB was bagged.
And, in 2016 a large new warehouse was added to accommodate the tremendous growth seen by PRIDE Seeds in recent years.
* Pulling Tassels, by Leonard Pegg
** Chatham-Kent, Heritage Resources
*** Today’s Farmer, Sept. 23, 2009