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Rob Cook Interview

Tell Us A Little Bit About Yourself

Brett Bamert: I’m Brett Bamert, president of Bamert Seed Company, and I’m here today with Rob Cook. Rob, would you tell us a little bit about yourself and, your experience?

Rob Cook: Sure. Brett. Yeah, thank you. I’m, I’m Rob Cook, director of business development here at Bamert Seed Company, and this month, marks four years. I’ve, I’ve been along with the company. So I grew up in a, a small ranching and farming community in the Texas panhandle, so I get to, to, to be back home and, but, but anyway, I got, a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Range and Wildlife Management from Angelo State University. And then I spent about 14 years, basically consulting, on, on grazing land, across the Southern Great Plains, with NRCS and, and with the Noble Research Institute, and then had the wonderful opportunity to, to, to come back and, be a part of this great organization. 

What Surprised You Most When You Got To Bamert?

Brett: Can you tell us a little bit, about what surprised you most when you got to the Bamert Seed Company?

Rob: Sure. I think think, the scale is one thing. It’s, and I found it impossible to explain to people. You have to come see it for yourself to understand it. So when you talk, think about native seeds, one, one thing, people don’t understand a niche market and how big a niche market really is and, and how much seed we actually produce, and we actually clean. And when you see a pile of seeds, taking up an entire warehouse the size that we have, it’s, it’s, it’s pretty, but it, you, you can’t imagine until you see it. And then, and then the, the, seed cleaning condition equipment that we have and the technology that’s, that’s behind that, you know, really nothing’s changed in the, the technology for, for years, but, being able to have that automated where it’s running on its own and just the size of it. And then one thing that if, if you’re familiar with, with, with ag, with seed, with cleaning seed, the cotton industry, the corn industry, the wheat industry, you know, those folks can run a lot of seed through those cleaners and they kind of set ’em and forget ’em almost. It takes a while to clean the native seed, and that’s a surprise. And then it’s a art, along with the science and the amount of time, that are, that Manuel and our production. I mean our, uh, seed conditioning folks take and, and, and fine tuning that equipment to clean that seed. And then just the complexity of, the production system. It’s not like, everybody thinks like to think they’re unique, but it’s really not like another farming operation. There’s a lot of complexity involved when you’re talking first perennial plants. When you’re talking to the, a variety, the amount of varieties and species that we grow, you know, bumping 120 of those, that takes a lot and there’s a lot of complexity involved with that, but you just can’t describe until you’re here.

Brett: Yeah. And it’s not like, every year you use the same screens for the same product. Right. I mean, that changes year to year. And, and there are, I’d hate to have to go out there and count how many screens.

Rob: Yeah, you’re so, you’re, you’re right. When I first got here, it was pretty interesting the meetings we’d have in the morning, and, you know, Manuel’s got where he from those records or where he ended all those screens last year on, on cleaning that specific species, that’s where he starts. But it evolves from there. Yeah. And it changes every day. It seems like those, those conversations are every morning trying to fine-tune that process. 

The Future Of The Native Seed Industry

Brett: Well, where do you foresee the future of the native seed industry going?

Rob: Yeah, so I think, the timeline of the native seed industry and its impact on, ag, uh, the, the ag industry as well as reclamation industry and just society as general, we’re on the cusp of seeing, I think a pretty big change. You know, the, the, there, there’s a value of people starting to be, interested in where their food comes from, even though they might not understand it, where farther and farther removed, from where our food come from as a society, but folks are starting to be interested in it. And, the ecosystem services that the biodiversity, of these native seeds plays, and the benefit to society is, is probably immeasurable. I mean, this is what the good Lord put here, right? And, as, as ag industry, we’ve moved away from that after the industrial revolution and kind of got away from biodiversity. And we spend a lot of our time and our energy and our money fighting that biodiversity and try to keep that in the monoculture. And in doing so, we’ve maximized production in a lot of areas. But with, with the cost of inputs and with, with input cost rising and our degradation in soil health throughout the years, there’s starting to be, a focus and emphasis on returning back to the manage, management of some of these ecosystem processes.

Some of the, these are not new ideas, they’re becoming popular again. But managing, processes, ecosystem processes, instead of implementing practices is, is starting to be, understood again in the importance of, of biodiversity. That biodiversity below grounds bleed, leads to biodiversity below ground and all that bio diversity below ground, and the roots and the, and the way they’re structured, throughout the soil profile is our best insurance against drought. It provides our best resiliency, across the landscape. Each one of those root systems are at a different part of the soil profile with a different structure. And throughout their growing season, they all have different growing season growth curves. And throughout that, they are demanding different resources from different parts of that soil profile at different times of the year within a monoculture, whether it’s a grassland or a cropping system, all those resources are in demand at the same time, at the same part of the soil profile.

So there’s a lot of competition and there’s hard to have a resilient system in, in that aspect, especially in the High Plains over the Ogallala Aquifer. Water is gonna continue to be a larger and larger issue. The things that a biodiverse native system, that being part of whatever production system you’re in, whether it’s cattle, whether it’s wildlife, whether it’s cropping, whether it is reclamation on a pipeline or construction project, that diversity below ground adds soil structure. It revitalizes the soil structure. That’s, that’s, that has typically been there in our native systems. That soil structure allows for increased water holding capacity in an, in increased water infiltration. So the rainfall that falls on our landscape is effective because more effective, we have less runoff. It goes into the system, right? And so our hydro, our hydrologic system functions better. Our energy system functions better. And our nu our, our, our nutrient system functioned better. You know, I’ve always, always kinda wondered, throughout my career, working a lot in, in some introduced grass systems, how we can produce 8,000 pounds of forge production on an introduced system. But it takes inputs, it takes fertilizers, it takes weed spray. A native system can do the exact same amount of forge production, but without those inputs, why is that? It’s because, functioning properly if they’re properly managed and healthy.

And so that’s where a lot of, the push for soil health, that here nowadays cover cropping these different things. They’re mimicking a healthy, diverse biodiverse, native range system because all those systems are functioning properly. So, you know, I see that, native grasses, in the future will play a role and in all of our cropping systems, I, I’m not saying that we don’t need to have monocultures of, of crops, cuz I like to eat for one. And I, and I like, and I like to wear clothes, and everybody else is pretty proud that I wear clothes too. But, but, but, that’s, you know, we’re not saying that we’re gonna get away from those, but, I’m, we’re gonna continue to see, more and more of the biodiversity and the natives, start coming this into the systems, to provide for the management of these ecosystem services that farmers and ranchers have, have provided, you know, for, for centuries to society.

You know, and that’s another thing, it, for, for the last 200 years, they’ve been compensated for one of those ecosystem services, and that’s food and fiber, but they provide so much more, you know, clean air, clean water, open space, biodiversity. So I think there’s an appetite on the market, for consumers, for, communities, municipalities, states to start, compensating our farmers and ranchers and our producers for those ecosystem servers. Those what they provide to society. Carbon’s a a pretty hot topic, you know, to me it, it doesn’t make a difference what side of the coin our customer set on the climate change issue. It does, it doesn’t, it really doesn’t make a difference because the bottom line, there’s an opportunity there. And so that’s what we really want to do, is make sure that we, allow our com whether it’s in the ag industry, reclamation industry, that our customers are positioned, in a way to take care to, to take advantage of some of those opportunities that are gonna be coming down the pipe there.

Brett: Yeah. It’s amazing when you, I’m glad you tied that in because, you know, ag, ag’s got just as much of an opportunity as, as some of these renewable energy, guys, companies have, uh, just as much as these larger multinational companies that want to be carbon neutral. And, so in the native seed space or in the native space, when you’re talking about diversity and ecosystem services, everybody can play, in that, in that role. So, so that’s exciting where we sit today to be able to offer that to them.

Rob: It, it is exciting and, and not only do we have the products to offer to those folks, but our, our sales staff, you know, and, we’ve mentioned it before and if anybody’s heard me talk, they’ve probably, I’m tired of hearing me talk about it, but we don’t hire seed salesman. We’ve hired, folks with basically an ecology background. And world class is a term that gets tossed around a lot and almost to the point that it’s lost its meaning, but I would, you know, I would challenge somebody to, to really look at the background and the resume of our folks at every position through the company and, and, and, and, and, you know, not, come to the same conclusion. And, and, and, and their goal is, is to help meet the goals and, and, and help educate too along the way.

So they have, have the ability to, one thing, historically that’s, that’s limited the growth of the native seed industry is the reputation of native seed and its difficulty for establishment. And one of the reasons for that is, the native, the industry shot itself in the foot to, to an extent. We have to make sure that we’re put putting the right seed out at the right place at the right time. And, these folks we have on staff are phenomenal at doing that. They’re understanding which varieties are adapted to which site and recommending, the species that are adapted to that site. And then step further the, the variety of those species that are adapted to that site. And then the goals of whatever the project is to, to help ’em be successful and not just recommended what we have the most stacked up in the warehouse, to get out the door.

And, and it’s, it’s having several times and, type of folks that, that we’ve been able to bring in, or that we have on staff as sales folks, with first get here. You know, every one of ’em has been like, Hey, I might have made a mistake. I actually recommended somebody not buying seed right now. Yeah. Yeah. We’re, it’s a wrong time of the year to be doing it, or we need to do some site work. We need to do some preparation to, to allow this project to be successful and this, and we, that’s exactly why we’re here, and that’s exactly why we’re doing what we’re doing. And, and it’s to, to, to help that, that project manager, to be successful. So that’s exciting that they bring that with them. Yeah. And that mentality and that point of view.

The Benefits Of Native Seeds

Brett: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think you talked, talked a lot about the benefits of native seeds, would you like to expand on that some more?

Rob: The, the, the benefit of native seeds is, it is, if, if you choose them, right, they’re adapted to the site, right? And by, what I say adapted to the site is, before, before we, as before we decided we were pretty smart and had to manage everything, that system functioned without us, right? And so those plants that are there are adapted for all those systems to be functioning, and, and they, they helped drive that process. So the benefits of it to me is just, resiliency across the landscape and taking out some of, those highs and lows that exist in kind of modern agriculture and be able to do that without the cost of inputs. You know, especially where we, where we live and where we, you know, have our, our friends and our family live, and, water’s a huge issue.

And the the reason, that I’m excited about natives in is because they make our rainfall effective more. The rainfall that falls on our land goes, into the soil and is used for, growing grasses for, for forge, for cattle, production, wildlife habitat, pollinators. Pollinators is a big thing, that sometimes is a buzzword and which to the, you know, sometimes buzzwords you overlook, but pollinators are vital to our food production. So all that biodiversity, a allows for all those, all those systems to function properly, you know, and, and, and where we live. Ag being kind of the, the backbone of what we’ve built our society like, we we’re gonna have to change some of our production, and, and include, and embrace biodiversity and manages these ecosystems to make sure that our small towns and communities are vibrant and continue on so we can continue to grow our families and, and my kids can, can raise a family in, in this, you know, these places that we hold so dear. Yeah.

Brett: Pretty big impact.

Rob: It is for sure.

What Role Do You Think Bamert Plays In The Future?

Brett: What role do you think Bamert Seed Company plays in the future?

Rob: Yeah, so I, I think we’ve done a phenomenal job of not trying to be everything to everybody, right? But what we have done a good job of is making sure we provide to the market what it needs. We talk a lot about, right now about ecotype specific seeds that, that are selected and harvested to be used to plant it back into specific ecotypes, because they’re adapted to those. And I think, there, there’s a lot of value in that. And, and we, we do see that if we plant the wrong variety in the wrong spot, it’s not gonna flourish. It is, if it comes up, it might not persist. So, so having those ecotypes specific seeds, having the crew, we have, Jeff and the production crew and Manuel and the conditioning crew to be able to produce ’em, get all those clean, and then be able to sell ’em in the right spot, you know, I think we, we fit that role very well.

We also still understand, the importance. We still can look back and see the impact that the varieties, you know, that USDA plant material, some of these varieties have played in reclamation and ag and where we are today, and understanding where those varieties are adapted and the wide, areas of that, that adaptation they have, and they able to capitalize on that and use those because there’s a long history of success using those as long as they’re used correctly. There’s, a lot of different thought processes on genetics right now, and we’re going through a lot of the science, to see who thought processes are correct on that. So we have folks that want the genetics, very refined genetics that came from that area to be harvested from that area and planted back on that area. And we can help do that to an extent.

And we have other folks that want the genetic pool within that, release within that variety to be large and varied, and we can help with that to that extent too. So we can’t be everything to everybody, but the market’s demanding, a lot of those, and we’re able to do that because of the folks we have. So we do, we do do play a role, in being able to produce those, but also we play a role in understanding what each of those tools are and where they’re applicable. We don’t try to use the, the pliers as a, you know, as the, as the hammer. We wanna make sure we’re using the right tool in the right spot, and we’re able and positioned as a company to be able to utilize all those tools in the toolbox to, to help folks be successful.

What Do You Enjoy Most About What You Do?

Brett: As we’re wrapping up this interview, Rob, one last question I’d like to ask you is, what, what do you enjoy most about, what you do every day?

Rob: I really go home every day feeling like I’ve made an impact. I feel like I’m able to make an impact to, the team and the employees we have in their day-to-day lives. I feel like I’m able to make an impact, in the community, in the area that I grew up in, that have folks that I care deeply about. And, for, for our ag and reclamation producers, I feel like I, you know, I’m able to make an impact, every day and make a difference on, what they’re able to accomplish. And, and, and, we’ve got our, our, our producers, are are talented, a bunch of folks, and don’t get the credit they need. And, and so being able to provide one little piece of information, one little, change in thought process to make them more successful is pretty humbling. And, I really enjoy that. And, something new every day, there’s, there’s a different conversation, there’s a different, fire so to say to put out there’s a different problem. And so, I, I really enjoy that aspect of it. 

What's The Most Common Question You Get?

Brett: Awesome. Awesome. And, what’s the most common question you get when you tell people you’re in the native seed business?

Rob: Yeah. You, you know, it’s kind of a people don’t understand what a native plant is. You know, say, so you corn, you know, bermudagrass, no, you know, the, the native the native plants that you see in a, in a field that has never, never been plowed. And then, and then they’re like, well, what, what do they, what, what do people use those for? And so you’re able to have that discussion and, that that’s where, we’re, you know, you tell we’re removed as a society from where our food comes from and where, but I get to be a part of that, reinvigoration of that knowledge, bringing, bringing that back to society. So that’s exciting.

Brett: That’s cool. I always get asked. Oh, so you’re in the grass seed business, so I have a lawn.

Rob: Yeah. I don’t, Hey, do lawns. Yeah. So, yes.

Brett: Well, Rob, we appreciate your time today. Thank you. Thanks for coming. Appreciate you.