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Former Jacques Seed CEO dies

George Jacques

George L. Jacques, former CEO of Jacques Seed Company in Prescott who later started George’s Seed Outlets, died Thursday, He was 90.

Marketing-oriented

In 1985, Jacques disassociated with the company his dad founded and began his own seed corn enterprise. In a lawsuit that ensued over his departure and a prior non-compete agreement, the two parties agreed to a settlement. After three years of court-ordered silence, he was ready to operate George’s Seed Outlets unfettered of labor and marketing restrictions laid down by then-U.S. District Court Judge John Shabaz.

He was quoted in a 1988 Herald article as saying the main difference between his business and the one he left is he’s very marketing oriented. He had 40 sales representatives in 15 states driving their own cars and working straight commission at the time. Customers who bought Jacques’ no-frill hybrids were rewarded with prices 20 percent lower than the big name brands, despite the products being identical, he said.

Once he agreed to the settlement’s terms, he opened George’s Seed in space rented at the site previously known as Ellsworth Farm Supply, several miles west of Ellsworth on Hwy. 10.

In 1986, he began planting his own hybrids to raise for sale. In 1987, he moved his business back to Prescott and added low-cost soybeans to his sales offerings. At the time, he planned to sell his riverfront feed mill and a 50-foot mobile home serving as “corporate headquarters” near the Burlington Northern Railroad track, then build a new office and processing facility outside of town.

In the spring of last year, his daughter, Julie, opened Seven Sisters Greenhouse on the grounds of farm number one of the original seed farms off Hwy. 29-35 in Prescott. It’s named for her and her six sisters: Jean, Miki, Jaci, Georgette, Cyd and Ann (deceased). She had spent hundreds of hours in the past working on the farms, helping her father grow the seed company.

George Jacques continued to do corn breeding at his farm in rural Prescott until his death.

Moved from Neillsville to Prescott

The Jacques Seed Company, which George Jacques built into a major U.S. multi-seed research, development and marketing firm, was begun by his father, William. In 1929, the firm was supplying 75 percent of the seed corn planted in Wisconsin. However, it also supplied many Iowa farmers, Oklahoma farmers were buying the seed corn, and some was even going to South America and Africa the following year.

George Jacques’ grandfather had a farm at Neillsville when George’s dad started helping him operate it in 1908 and took an interest in seed corn. In 1924, William moved from Neillsville to Prescott because there was more room to work and the soil near Prescott was better adapted to seed corn raising. By 1927, he was one of the world’s first commercial producers of certified seed corn.

William built a wooden shed, began planting and contracting for corn, and waited for the crop. With a few helpers, he cured the corn, tested it and put it in sacks. His fame as a seed corn producer had followed him to Prescott and he sold the entire output. The plant was eventually expanded, arranged with both ends used for storage and the center devoted to drying bins.

There’s just as much science in his business as in breeding pure bred cattle, William said, believing there’s really more. His work was to develop from the many varieties and even more strains a variety which is hardy, free from disease and of great yield.

He experimented in breeding corn. Practically all was cross bred -- the pollen of one variety fertilized the silk of another. And he dabbled with in-bred corn, hoping to produce a pure strain.

Jacques introduced his first hybrid seed corn in 1931. He began chemically treating seed corn in 1935, one of the first processors to do so. By 1945, he was outsold by newer companies in the hybrid seed corn market. At the time, the company needed new marketing directions.

The Jacques brothers, including George, returned from military service, attended college, then joined the company. In 1966, William died and George became president of the company after having started working there in 1948. Nine years later, he and his brother Charles sold Jacques Seed to Rorer-AmChem. Charles retired and George stayed on as president until 1985 through a succession of owners, such as Union Carbide in 1977, Agrigenetics Corporation in 1980 and the Lubrizol Corporation in 1985. Mycogen Plant Sciences later took over.

Generations of Prescott residents have vivid memories of detasseling there in their teen years. Thousands of field workers were hired during detasseling season, usually lasting a month. Many didn’t have access to a vehicle back in the day, so needed to find a job close to home and Jacques’ seed operations were the answer.

George donated to many causes, including the Prescott Foundation and the Great River Road Visitors Learning Center. He and Charles were co-grand marshals for Prescott Daze in 1974.

Visitation for George Jacques is scheduled for this Wednesday from 4-7 p.m. at the Caturia-Smidt Funeral Home in Hastings, Minn. Mass is scheduled for this Thursday at 11 a.m. at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Prescott, with visitation at the church after 10 a.m.

Bill Kirk

Bill Kirk was editor of the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth, from 1988 to February, 2015 and is now on staff as a reporter. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He previously worked in the media distribution department at the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus and is past editor of The Tri-County News in Osseo, Wisconsin.

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