Hartung Brothers, Inc. History 101

Written By Randy Hartung

In the years before the mega bean contracts, the Texas seed operations, even before the Arena office, the Hartung Family was known for its hard work ethics taught by their parents - Galen and Lorna Hartung. Although many stories could be told of the way Mr. and Mrs. Hartung raised their children, the one that will stand-out is that "hard work will always pay-off". With the "books" being started early in life all the children were taught the value of a dollar and a good loan officer, from the first day they could hold a job outside the home. Whether it was mowing lawns, sweeping floors at the Co-op or selling Amway door-to-door - anything you wanted could be yours, if you were willing to work for it. I knew these folks were serious when I got a bill for school clothes and I was only in the 6th grade! The "free-ride" was over early on for the Hartung children, from that time on the loving respect and low interest loans, were what the kids would come to expect from Mom and Dad.

When we talk about the early history of Hartung Brothers, Inc. it is important to understand the environment the players come from. This Company is very much a family business rooted in the work ethic handed to it by the former Chairman of the Board (C.O.B.) Galen Hartung.

In the years just before incorporation, 1975, the history of the Company would be traced back to two young men still in their high school days and both at the formative age of 17. Don and Dan, twin brothers, did everything together. Working jobs together, like cleaning the offices at the local feed mill in Cottage Grove, WI or working the Amway route their Mother helped them set-up, at that time they could not drive. But going past the twins’ willingness to work together, there were other players in the mix as well. Robert Hartung who could drive, Randy Hartung who was young enough to be willing to do anything and a new element Gayle Ann Hartung, the oldest daughter, brought home a boyfriend by the name of Jim Noltner.

By now it was clear that Dan Hartung had a knack for finding work needing to be done, he was just lacking someone to do it! Don and Dan had been working at the "Corn Palace" in Cottage Grove, WI, a grain drier complex operated by the local Co-op (Cenex) which was managed by Galen Hartung. Now you might think this was set-up by the elder Hartung, but in most cases it was just the opposite. You see, Galen had a policy that forbids family members from working for him. But the Corn Palace manager needed help sampling corn and cleaning dryers. The "boys" were very dependable. So as long as they were not around when Galen was, then everything would be just fine. Well, Dan made a lot of contacts working there and at other Ag related operations in the area. He saw a need for a "custom farming" business doing the work a lot of farmers didn’t have time to do or couldn’t do themselves.

During the mid 70’s agriculture was in the middle of a boom period, that was putting a lot of acres, that were formally in the "Soil Bank" into production. Dan saw a need and Don knew they could fill it. In early 1974, the boys rented 40 acres of land between Cottage Grove and Madison to raise field corn, using borrowed or rented equipment to till and plant the field. They didn’t have a combine yet, but what the heck, they wouldn’t need one for 110 days any ways, they had time. Along with the 40 acres of corn, they had also rented a garage and purchased 40 pigs and 4 steers to raise, I think Don lost a bet! This is where the others begin to work into the picture. With the different jobs Don and Dan had (and remember they were still going to high school -juniors), they needed help from time to time. Feeding the hogs was one thing, cleaning their pens was Randy’s job. Dan really loved running the planter, but it was Jim Noltner who ran the combine during the day and worked for his Dad at the Bridge Lounge in Monona at nights. No one was better at plowing a field than Don, I heard him say that many times, but it was Steve and John Hartung who picked the stones on the weekends that helped to get the field work done. Back then, as now it seems, the more that got done the more that could get done and like I said, "Dan had a knack for finding work".

In the Winter of ‘74 - ‘75, after the successful harvest of the 40 acres of corn, the little piggies were off to market and the steers were in someone’s freezer, the talk then turned to next year and what the future would hold for these farming want-a-be’s from Cottage Grove. This is when Galen saw a real need to get some order to things and suggested incorporating all the family's talents into one Company, Hartung Brothers, Inc., to make best use of all their assets and limit their liabilities, he always talked like that in meetings. The founding stockholders were: Robert Hartung, Don Hartung, Dan Hartung, Jim Noltner and Galen Hartung. The balance of the shareholders "bought-in" to the Company when age would allow, those members are (in order of membership) Randy Hartung; Steve Hartung; John Hartung; Tara Hartung-McDonald; James Hartung and Gayle Noltner. At this time (1996) all of the shareholders are still active board members and meet on a regular basis.

In the Spring of ‘75, with the "Corporation" formed, Dan got to work putting deals together with area farmers to do custom work as well as renting 800 acres of land for cash corn production. This would require equipment like tractors, planters and crop inputs, which would require cash. Galen would prove a big help in getting the start-up money by co-signing the note (loan) at the bank, remember, Don & Dan were not 18 yet and still in school, or at least supposed to be. So with the first hurdle out of the way, Don and Dan began shopping for supplies, Don fell for a John Deere 4-wheel drive tractor (7520) and sold Dan on the idea that a tractor of this size (the first of its kind in Wisconsin) would be needed to plow the new land coming into production. And so the first piece of farm equipment was purchased from Farmers Implement in Madison. The first time I saw an I-H air planter was when Dan brought it to the field behind the new I-H 100 Hydro tractor to plant with that Spring.

Things were really moving now, Robert (BeJoe) had rented a truck and was hauling corn to Milwaukee and LaSalle, IL, Jim Noltner was working with Don and doing the finishing tillage with the 7520 and I was learning that a stone boat is not a boat made of stone. Dan had struck a deal with one of the areas largest farmers (Henry Fredenberg) to rent shop space and two-way radios for communication. This worked out well for the first season or two, but by then it was plain, we would need a two-way system and a shop of our own.

The harvest of ‘75 went very well. Don, Dan and Jim had worked out a deal to get a new I-H combine to harvest the 800 acres of corn and hundreds more for area growers. I am just not sure who owned it, us or a local farmer named Pete Miller. Mr. Miller and other local farmers had a lot to do with the start up of HBI. Some with helpful advice, others with challenges that they thought would cause failure. But, they all helped to make our Company stronger for it.

In the Fall of 1975 HBI moved it’s shop and so called "office" from Henry Fredenberg’s farm to Jim Noltner’s garage and upstairs bedroom. We put the two-way tower in Jim’s back yard and worked on planters in his driveway. Gayle didn’t seem to mind, the two-way was a constant source of entertainment and she always knew where her husband was. She was also the Company’s first secretary, accountant, controller and referee.

During the winter of ‘75, Dan was busy renting more ground to get this new business up to speed. He ran into competition from a seed producer on the South West side of Madison, Richard Blaney of Blaney Seeds. They were both bidding for the same ground, much to the delight of the land owner, George Holmes of Holmes Tire. Dan decided to meet with Richard and try to work something out, he found that Richard was more interested in having his seed raised than raising it. Dan and Richard hammered out what would be the first of many deals with Blaney Farms and launch HBI into the seed business.

The Spring of ‘76 brought many changes. We hired our first full-time, non-family member, employee, Tom DiPiazza. On Tom’s job application he simply states, "if it’s broke I can fix it - if it has wheels I can drive it"! Just what the Doctor ordered for this new Company where the only ones with tools are Don and Dan. Some of the old timers here at HBI can remember Tom as a truly unique individual and one who can now add to his resume "if it flies, I can fly it"!

The growing season of 1976 would bring the Company’s first real challenge, the weather. The year’s drought was one for the record books, caught many seed producers off guard and Dan looking for irrigated land. In the Spring of 1977, Dan signed a rental agreement with Circle Valley Farms to rent a small shop and office, the office was 8’x12’ with a half bath, near the small town of Arena, WI. A short time later the office would be moved, much to Gayle’s delight, from Cottage Grove, WI to Arena, WI.

The office and shop would very soon prove too small for this infinite company. So in 1978, the first of many additions took place with the office being expanded to include a lunch room (the old office), an entry way with counter and two offices. At this point the Company went big time and hired a receptionist, Mary DiPiazza (Tom’s wife and mother to "little" Ron Kreul). She was a very powerful person and whipped the office into shape in no time.

The shop got an addition in 1979 that would include a parts room and cold storage area. Things were really beginning to move and change with two-way radio towers in Cottage Grove, Madison and now Arena, everything became as close as a two-way radio. Communication was key to our expansion. With Jim Noltner and Randy spraying corn in the Wisconsin Dells area, Don working ground in Madison, Robert on the road (who knows where) and Dan planting in Arena, the work was spreading out each year. It seems fitting, somehow that we are now in Texas.

There are many stories that could be told of the years that followed and I for one would love to hear them from you. If you have a particular story relating to a time in Company history or a funny moment or maybe a not so funny tragedy, tell your story.

Feel free to contact Randy Hartung with your stories and comments.

1974

Rented 40 acres to raise corn & a garage to house 40 pigs and 4 steers

1975

HBI Incorporates, Dan & Don graduate from High School

Operations expand to 800 ac. of corn

Purchased a 7520 John Deere tractor

First HBI office opened

1976

First seed contract; hire first non-family member employee

Open first shop

Randy becomes a shareholder

1977

Land is rented in Arena, WI

1978

Office is set-up in Arena

1979

H & N Transport is incorporated

Retail fertilizer operations opened in Arena

Purchase first floater

Steve Hartung becomes a shareholder

1980

Purchase first 155 acres of farm land and a Dairy Farm

Open first wholesale fertilizer terminal in Oxford, WI

1981

Larry Price starts as accountant and office manager

1982

John Hartung becomes a shareholder

1983

1984

Purchase Nicklaus Harvesting; RPG is born

James and Tara become shareholders

1985

Purchase Tracy Seeds

1986

1987

Build a Green House Range

1988

Sell retail seed operations

Shop fire

1989

RPG has their biggest year

New Arena Shop dedicated

Retail fertilizer operations ceased

1990

1991

1992

HBI gets in a pickle deep in the heart of Texas

Jim Noltner begins contract talk for pickle production

1993

1994

Purchase Corn Processors, Inc.

Gayle Noltner becomes a shareholder

1995

Byron corn cutter first tested in New York

1996

Purchase Asgrow Seed Plant in Uvalde, TX

1997

1998

1999

2000

Purchase a Seed Plant in Madison, WI

Close Janesville Seed Plant - move all operations to Madison

2001

2002

Arena Fertilizer Plant built

Construction began on the Portland, OR Cucumber Grading Facility

2003

Begin construction on Fertilizer Plant in Kaukauna, WI

H & N Transportation becomes H & N Logistics LLC

Corporate Office moves to Madison, Deming Way - 1/1/03

2004

Construction complete on Kaukauna, WI Fertilizer Plant.

Construction began on Bowling Green, OH Cucumber Plant.

2005

Purchased a Seed plant in Muncie, IL

2006

Begin Construction on Wisconsin Rapids Fertilizer Plant

Construction begins on the Bowling Green, OH Tank Yard

2007

Corporate Office moves to newly constructed building in Madison, WI

Construction complete on Wisconsin Rapids Fertilizer Plant

2008

Bowling Green, OH 450 Tank Expansion

2009

Chatham, Ontario, Canada - Cucumber Grading Site Added

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