Member Profile: C3 Seeds

March 19, 2023

C3 Seeds serves a need for certified seed and critical seed-cleaning for grain in Southwest Michigan.

Carl Wagner III, Carl Wagner IV, and Mary Claire Wagner

“Know Your Farmer” is a phrase that was popularized at farmers’ markets, and while it fits nicely on a bumper sticker, all the people involved in moving grains do not. The many layers of work required to bring grains from ground to glass and seed to loaf are mostly hidden, and this month’s member profile illuminates an extra-invisible, and extra-crucial stratum in the grain equation.

Carl Wagner III started C3 Seeds in Southwest Michigan in 2017 to sell surrounding farmers certified seed and offer critical handling infrastructure for processing grain post-harvest. Businesses like this used to be common, but over the last 50-60 years, local and regional seed cleaning and handling facilities have shuttered as farms got bigger and concentrated crop production on corn and soy. As diversified farming vanished, so too did the agricultural enterprises serving smaller, multi-pronged operations.

Carl has always been involved in agriculture. He grew up farming, and in fact his parents raise row crops and his brother runs a small dairy. Carl studied Crop and Soil Agronomic Sciences at Michigan State University; after graduating in 2011, he worked as a retail agronomist in the Michiana area. (For readers beyond the Midwest, Michiana is not a typo, but shorthand for northern Indiana and southwest Michigan.)

About a dozen years ago, Carl identified the need for seed procurement and cleaning infrastructure. Looking to grow a crop of malting barley, he discovered that there was no local or even nearby seed available; he had to get seed from North Dakota. This personal experience with a supply chain pinch point led him to start growing certified seed for farmers who shared an interest in stretching out of standard row crops and into value-added grains.

Roguing for rye (removing off-type seed heads) with baby Carl!

As a farmer, Carl focuses on seed production of high-value malting and food-grade grains. Initially, he brought his crops for processing to Lansing, and the seed facility of the Michigan Crop Improvement Association. Since this is two and a half hours away, the logistics cut into farming and family time, and into profitability. When he learned of a value-added producer grant sponsored by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Resource Development, he pursued and received funds to build his own seed processing facility. Currently, he continues to produce certified seed as a Michigan Crop Improvement member.

C3 Seeds is five years old, and Carl says he still feels new to the industry. “I’m looking to continue to grow as a seed business and a processor, and to help other entrepreneurs grow their businesses,” he says. To that end, he has made the facility flexible, so that he can handle either organic or conventional seed, and handle quantities from 100 lbs up to semi loads (50,000 lbs). In addition to working with farmers, C3 Seeds processes grain for distillers and malthouses.

Every order is idiosyncratic. Carl uses different combinations of equipment depending on the desired outcome whether for seed, food, malting or distilling. “The end use of the finished product will determine if it is simply going through a fanning mill to be scalped and sifted, or whether it requires a more sophisticated equipment and processes. Some commodities have unique requirements.”

Clipper Super 69D Fanning Mill

Setting the mill up with all this equipment took longer than anticipated, and Carl found himself in the role of general contractor. He walked a few seed facilities to see their setups, and says in retrospect, he wishes he’d seen a few more so he could have planned better. Though businesses he approached were open to him touring, there are a limited number of them in the region. Carl appreciates being a member of AGC so that he can connect with so many people who are looking to help develop the kind of regional grain world his business is supporting, and to be a resource to them in the process.

Two-row barley

Carl is optimistic about the Midwest grainshed. “The future points to increased small grain production and increased use of cover crops in the Midwest,” he says. These trends are apparent to him from his earlier agronomic work, and what he sees as an active participant in many agricultural support systems. He’s on the board of the Michigan Wheat Program, which is exploring its first foray into creating educational materials about small grains for K-12 schools in the state.

Wondering where the name came from? That’s a question with multiple answers! Since he is Carl Wagner III, it seemed a natural option. When he realized it could also refer to a metabolic pathway for photosynthesis in plants, he decided to stick with it. [C3 plants are those with a metabolic pathway featuring C3 fixation. Plants are designated C3, C4, or CAM, depending on differences in their styles of photosynthesis.] Most of the crops he sells so far are C3 plants. We are excited to see how all of his work continues to grow!

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Too early to go into the business? Carl IV checks out some soybean seed. Who could say no to that face!?
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