Seed Savior

Farm boy turned warrior, Marvin Redenius battles a behemoth

| November/December 1999

Blond and blue-eyed, Marvin Redenius reaches out to shake hands. Wearing a gray T-shirt with blue jeans tucked into the tops of brown, square-topped work boots, he looks every bit the young farmer, not the head of a multi-million-dollar farm supply network. He often dresses that way for work, although he's grubbier today than normal; he's been checking on the house he and his wife are having built next to the business here in Belmond, a small town in north central Iowa.

Feeling his way, Redenius sits at the head of a conference table and checks for the time, flipping open the crystal of his watch and lightly touching the small bumps on its face with his right index finger. 'I'm blind, you know. That's why I have this watch,' he says.

Redenius, 35, is an unlikely warrior in a legal battle against a global agribusiness behemoth--Des Moinesñbased Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc.--that could help determine the future of the agricultural seed industry, a multi-billion-dollar business with extensive research, production, and marketing operations in the Midwest. A farm boy and high school graduate, he started his company nine years ago with $1,500 and a business partner, operating out of a small room in his home in Clarion, a county seat about 20 miles from here.

His company, Farm Advantage Inc., uses a network of more than 100 independent contractors to sell crop seed and farm chemicals at a discount to farmers in the Upper Midwest. Redenius claims it is one of the fastest growing such companies in the region, with annual sales that run into eight figures, though he won't specify an amount.

Early last year, about a week before the business moved to a new 21,000-square-foot headquarters, a U.S. marshal served legal papers notifying Redenius that he was being sued by Pioneer for patent infringement.

His misstep? Selling 600 bags of Pioneer seed corn, which he bought from another seed dealer, without Pioneer's permission. The company sought damages and a halt to the sales.

Redenius was incredulous. 'Out of the people they could have gone after, and they came after me,' he says. 'Aw, get real. This is ridiculous.'