Hartung Brothers take over Syngenta Kekaha operations

KEKAHA — Marla Suga, lead safety officer at what was Syngenta and is now Hartung Brothers Hawaii, said the day the seed company switched hands was surreal.

“We were Syngenta on Monday and we were Hartung on Tuesday,” she said. “Everybody rolled with it.”

That was at the beginning of the week, and on Friday about 150 people attended a grand opening celebration at the Kekaha headquarters with part of the Hartung family.

“We’ve put a different sign on the driveway, but we’ve maintained a lion’s share of the people,” said Dan Hartung, president of Hartung Brothers Inc. “It’s the knowledge base you have to have and that comes with the people in here, that have been doing this job.”

Of the eight Hartung siblings that are shareholders in their company, three brothers attended the grand opening, including Hartung’s twin brother, Don Hartung, the man who will be overseeing theseed operations in Hawaii.

He’s in direct contact with Josh Uyehara, site general manager, who is overseeing day-to-day operations at the Kauai facility.

“They’ve (Syngenta) instilled a lot of faith in us to get the job done, and they’ve got an awfully good crew here,” Don Hartung said. “There’s no doubt we can be successful at it with the people that are here.”

Dan Hartung said a good business model is at play for Syngenta, but the company will be looking for areas of improvement.

The purchase agreement between Hartung Brothers Inc. and Syngenta was announced earlier this year.

Family and profit top the priority list for the Hartung Brothers, three of whom started the business by farming 40 acres of leased land near Madison, Wisconsin, in 1974.

“They told us when we were setting up this event (grand opening) that we should all just pitch in and contribute what we can, our talents,” Suga said. “It’s like a family event where everyone pitches in. They’re really about that.”

Hartung Brothers Inc., is a seed company that has been providing seed corn production, processing and distribution services to Syngenta since the 1980s.

Now they have operations in Ohio, Iowa, Indiana, Canada — and most recently, Hawaii.

“They (Hartung’s operations) support the local communities they’re in, and at the same time being careful on costs,” Don Hartung said. “Everybody wants to be employed and have progress, and that comes with making money.”

Syngenta works about 4,000 acres on Oahu and Kauai for inbred and hybrid seed production sites, and was established in Hawaii in the late 1960s.

New challenges for the Hartung Brothers in their new Kauai landscape include legislative and water issues that don’t exist in their other locations, Don Hartung said.

“That’s unusual, but to date it’s been managed all right,” he said. “It continues to take effort.”

A stronger focus on seed operations and the potential to expand into growing cover crops and potentially food crops are new things Uyehara is looking at with the takeover.

“It’s been exciting over the last few weeks getting to focus on running our business really, really well,” he said. “We get to focus on how to improve operations not as part of a larger, more complex company, but as a stand-alone business.”

Because of the extra and unused land around the Kekaha site, Uyehara said he’s looking into sunflower seeds and soybean production. He’s considered using bush beans as a cover crop as well.

“Is there anything that can grow that would enhance the seed operation and bring back your holding cost of the land?” Uyehara said.

The brothers said they’re on the right track toward success with the “right people on the bus.”

Uyehara said the new owners’ business philosophy jives with the Westside’s mentality, and with those who work at the site.

“It fits well with our local way of life,” Uyehara said. “People want to have that lifestyle of working in agriculture, and you have to make a living doing that.“

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