In 1960, Tom and Rich Wilson decided to open a fertilizer business called Wilson Brothers. They began their business by getting their very first loan at Chatsworth Bank in Chatsworth, Illinois; the loan covered their first two trucks, which were R190 Cab over Internationals with grain trailers. They were used to haul grain north and then cart steel back out of the mills. They then took out an additional loan to purchase two lime trucks, a GMC and an International that each possessed a Baughman Lime spreader.
So off they went! They started their business with a few trucks and $35.00 in their pockets in the garage behind Rich's house on the west side of Brook. They were "Debt Propelled" and had a goal to reach one million dollars in sales. In the first couple of years, fertilizer was not their leading product, but rather was trailing after the grain and steel hauling, and the lime spreading. After the initial start of Wilson Brothers, Tom and Rich decided to begin selling and constructing grain bins to keep them busy during the lulls of the summer, not to mention the benefit of extra income.
In 1962, Wilson Brothers moved into town and built an office and a shop on Railroad Street. Soon after, dry fertilizer storage and a scale followed. The business was growing, financially as well as physically, and any money that was made was invested back into the company to obtain more equipment.
In 1970, Wilson Brothers purchased the grain elevator in Brook to keep up with expansion that quickly became the trend. The elevator consisted of an old grain house and a drying facility which was torn down shortly after acquiring. The storage capacity at the time of purchase was about 45,000 bushels, however, with new grain dryers, wet grain storage, and overall grain storage the elevator evolved into a 500,000 bushel facility.
Throughout the 60’s and 70’s the fertilizer side of Wilson Brothers was booming due to the increased use of herbicides, insecticides, and of course…fertilizer! The trend began to move away from dry bagged starter, and instead favored liquid starter; what's more, bulk herbicides were also being used and in response to the growing demand, Wilson Brothers became the first in the area to offer them. In addition, farming operations were increasing in overall size, moving away from the livestock aspect, and obtaining bigger, better, and faster equipment.
This prompted Wilson Brothers to adapt to the changes of the time by purchasing tanks for storage, stainless steel nurse tanks, mix tanks, and their first GMC, high flotation, combination sprayer/spreader truck with 66 inch wheels. In addition, a liquid blend plant was added in order to make custom starters and suspensions.
Wilson Brothers not only updated the mechanical side of the business, but also rejuvenated the agronomical side when they hired their first agronomist, Bob Beurman. Bob established test plots to research the best ways to improve research, and introduced several methods that are still being used and passed along today.
The 1970's were a time of modernization and transformation for agriculture, but unfortunately ended on a sad note. Richard Wilson passed away in 1978, leaving Tom as the sole owner of Wilson Brothers.
The 1980's began with new endeavors, a new name and the accumulation of two more Wilson’s. As Tom took over the business, it soon became incorporated and was called from that point forward, Wilsons Fertilizer, Inc. In addition, Jeff and Steve Wilson followed in their father’s footsteps in 1981 when they each bought into Wilson Fertilizer, Inc.
A newspaper publication was developed in order to showcase test plot results, yield improvement articles, and promote Wilson Fertilizer, Inc. This periodical was sent out quarterly and was delivered to everyone in the WFI service area.
The newspaper proved to be a useful way to advertise for the newly established 200-bushel club. The 200-bushel club was a contest for growers that would award the individual that had the largest yield average on a 40 acre plot that was over 200 bushel/acre with a trip to Hawaii! A couple years after the 200 bushel goal was obtained, the 200-bushel club changed its name to the MEY Club (Maximum Economic Yield). Data was collected, compiled, and analyzed from these plots and then shared among the members.
The growth of the 70's carried through to the 80's and Wilson Fertilizer, Inc. added dry and liquid storage tanks, applicator trucks, and new products. All trucks were converted to High Flotation units with 66 inch tires on the rear and gained a new coat of red that soon marked the Wilson Fertilizer truck task force. While the trucks increased, the product lines expanded to include seed corn and beans.
Wilson Fertilizer, Inc. continued to grow with Jeff heading up the grain handling equipment sales and construction, Steve was running the retail fertilizer division, and Tom was able to launch the industrial division which sold products such as sulfuric and phosphoric acid into industry and fertilizer production. Each branch of business was still contained under the corporation of Wilson Fertilizer, Inc. During the 80's the interest rates were high and on the rise and the business was heavily involved in inventory and borrowing. This proved to be difficult for all facets of Wilson Fertilizer, Inc. Fortunately, in 1987 Wilson Fertilizer, Inc. found a bank and a banker that allowed the business to be broken down into three separate corporations: Wilson Fertilizer, Inc., Wilson Industrial Sales, and Wilson Design Builders.
All three of the businesses continued to grow and shared their success with the farmers that helped make them successful by holding an annual hog roast held at the Conservation Club that included a country band and hay rides, and a yearly trip to Wrigley field and the Princess Café.
The 1990’s held promise for continuous growth and expansion for the Wilson Group, however, sadness struck yet again; Jeff Wilson passed away at the age of 36.
In order to fill the void on the business side of things, Jeff Vissering was hired to run the fertilizer division. This allowed Steve the opportunity to join Wilson Industrial and watch over Wilson Design Builders by continuing Jeff Wilson’s ongoing projects and keep the business on track for a couple more years. In 1993, it was decided to sell off Wilson Design Builders, and Steve moved over to Wilson Industrial. In addition to Steve, Jeff Vissering was also hired by Wilson Industrial and Doug Deno was brought in as the new manager of Wilson Fertilizer, Inc. in the spring of 1994.
Doug was not the only new addition to Wilson Fertilizer…silver wheel sprayers were purchased. The design of these vehicles provided a centered cab with large windows allowing the operator to have a clear view out, as well as air conditioning which worked...most of the time.
The 90's afforded leaps and bounds for farmers everywhere as the machinery continued to advance. This allowed for more progress in a day’s time, which proved to be a welcomed challenge from Wilson Fertilizer, Inc. However, this progression led to the decision to shut down Brook Grain; the little elevator that could…could, no longer. The financial investment that would be required to bring the elevator up to speed could not be justified. Therefore, in 1998, the elevator was closed and its pieces were auctioned off.
In 1999, expansion was on the horizon as Kentland Fertilizer was purchased and turned into a satellite operation for Wilson Fertilizer. This addition proved valuable and convenient as Wilson Fertilizer enlarged their customer base as well as made it easier to serve Brook customers with farmland in the Kentland area.
As the next decade approached, growth became a tradition as the equipment of Wilson Fertilizer became bigger, better, and numerous. Not only did this allow for more efficient business, but also allotted for coverage of a larger geographic area.
As times changed, so did the era in agriculture…Wilson Fertilizer had entered the “glysophate/round-up decade” as well as “serious application equipment decade”. Round-up seemed to be the herbicide of choice, not only for farmers but also for homeowners. The result was an increased need for post type spraying. Therefore, Wilson invested in new equipment of John Deere sprayers to fill this need.
In 2009 Doug Deno moved over to Wilson Industrial and left Eric Chapman as his replacement. Eric managed the operations of the Brook and Kentland retail fertilizer divisions from 2009-2014. Under his management a new program surfaced; the Next Level Program is an intensive scouting program that provides a combination of in-field scouting as well as real-time imagery to farmers in order to monitor their crops. In addition to the Next Level Program, Wilson Fertilizer, Inc. also recreated the MEY Club in the form of the 300-Bushel club. This club started as a contest, but has turned into a program to allow farmers an opportunity to see if 300-bushel corn can be grown economically using the most up-to-date agronomical methods. Eric left the company in 2014 for a career opportunity in the agricultural products distributor market.
Scott Crull was hired as the General Manager in 2014. Under his management, Wilson Fertilizer has again increased the size and capacity of the application equipment to meet the needs of their customers. This time equipment has changed to Case IH. New technology has been introduced for grid testing, and variable rate technology for spreading along with very intensive mapping. This also allows information to be sent from the office directly to the application equipment to ensure accuracy and precision.
Wilson Fertilizer has been a leader in crop management and protection for over 50 years and is dedicated to continuing with this philosophy for years to come.
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Wilson Fertilizer, Inc.
201 South Wilson Street
Brook, Indiana 47922
Wilson Fertilizer, Inc.
204 North Fairgrounds Road
Kentland, Indiana 47951