Sen. Amy Klobuchar promotes STEM skills for workplace success

By Carrie McDermott 

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., visited Seeds 2000, a Nuseeds company, in Breckenridge, Minn., Friday morning, touring the facility and meeting with staff and company leaders. The stop was part of her two-day science and technology education tour where she discussed her efforts to provide students and workers with the science, technology, engineering and math skills to succeed in the workplace.

International Sales Manager Matt Breker led the tour, explaining the export side of the business and all the foreign markets the company goes in to.

“China is very important for our export business,” he said. “We probably have a 70 to 75 percent market share there.”

The company also exports into France, Romania, Hungary, Ukraine and South Africa to name a few.

Breker said Seeds 2000 tests thousands of new hybrids every year, and has some of the best blue corn genetics. The company specializes in sunflower seeds, corn and soybeans.

“If you buy a bag of blue corn chips, the likelihood is high that the genetics came from here,” he said.

Heather Ranck, director of the U.S. Commercial Service office in Fargo, the export division of the U.S. Commerce Department, took part in the tour and explained her role working with the company.

“We help small and medium sized businesses, help them figure out if the foreign customers are real, it gets very specific. It’s a whole different use of embassies,” she explained. “We’re like for companies.”

Ross Hakes, international sales and marketing, said working with the U.S. Commercial Service has been very beneficial to Seeds 2000.

“You give them a profile and they go find possible relationships for your company,” he said. “They help find who we’re looking for, and if there’s an interest expressed by a company. They’ve done a nice job. It’s been nice to have that resource available.”

Eric Hendrickson, research technician, shared information about the greenhouse at the facility, where another technician, Penny Helgeson, was in the middle of “emasculating sunflowers,” as part of the breeding program. She showed Klobuchar how to remove the outer pollen heads with a pair of tweezers.

After the tour the group gathered in the conference room to discuss the job market, immigration reform and challenges small agricultural businesses face.

Breckenridge Mayor Cliff Barth said after talking with area contractors, he found their concern is they can’t get young adults to work in the labor jobs.

“They want to be on computers,” he said.

Fifteen to 20 years ago, Seeds 2000 had plenty of high school students willing to work in the fields with the sunflowers, but the company has since moved its production to the west coast, where that type of labor is more readily available.

“On the immigration issue, it’s pretty important we make some reform,” Breker said. “We need help in the fields and we need help keeping higher educated people in this country. We have a large population of students in college in the U.S. that are from foreign countries, they get their degrees here, and then they leave.”

Klobuchar said the rural areas are often more open about immigration reform.

“We’re going to have a serious workforce shortage, a serious science and technology shortage which is why we’re getting kids to do more with STEM,” Klobuchar said.”

Seeds 2000 employs 38 full time staff and about 20 seasonal workers.