Iowa doesn’t have a shortage of millionaires, but billionaires are a little thinner on the ground. At the time of writing, only two residents of the Hawkeye State have managed to make it to billionaire status. The first is Dennis Albaugh, the man who proved fertilizer could be liquid gold when he made a mint on pesticides with his company, Albaugh LLC. The second is Harry Stine, a self-made billionaire who made his fortune as the founder and owner of the US’s largest private seed company, Stine Seed. But which of the two is the richest? With a net worth that Forbes currently estimates to be in the region of $5.4B, the richest person in Iowa by a clean mile is Harry Stine. By comparison, Albaugh’s $1.5 billion fortune positively pales into insignificance. But who exactly is Harry Stine? And how did he get so ridiculously wealthy? Sit tight, because you’re about to find out.
Who is Harry Stine?
Harry Stine’s exact birth date isn’t known. We’re pretty sure HE knows the exact year of his birth, but as far as public records go, it could either be 1941 or 1942. Birthdate confusion aside, what we know for a fact is that he was born to hardscrabble farmers Bill and Roselba in Dallas County, Iowa. According to Forbes, the billionaire was already getting his hands dirty at the age of 5, regularly helping out the family business by scooting around the farm on a tractor, picking up straw bales.
His love of the land continued unabated throughout his teens; by the time he was in his late 20s, his interest in the field extended way beyond sowing potatoes and collecting straw bales. The 1960s heralded in the age of genetic modification, something Stine wasn’t slow at catching onto. After finding a few unusual soybean plants in one of the farm’s fields, he started getting into soybean genetics in a big way. Intrigued by the financial implications that growing high-yield, insect-resistant soybeans could have, he and four other seedsmen set up Improved Variety Research (IVR), a soybean-breeding program that constituted the first soybean research and development company in the US outside of a university setting.
The company dissolved in 1973, but Stine and his fellow IVR buddy Bill Eby decided there was still more ground to be plowed. The result was Midwest Oilseeds, a company that as Stine’s official bio on stineseed.com notes, is still the soybean genetics licensing company of choice in Northern America. A year prior to that, Stine found the time to begin selling soybean seeds under his own label, Stine Soybean Seeds, a company he still heads up today (although these days, corn and soft red winter wheat make up as much of its sales as soybeans do). While selling seeds proved profitable, it failed to satisfy Stine’s burning interest in transgenics. To satisfy his craving to discover just how far he could take the simple soybean, he and Bill Eby established Eden Enterprises in 1983. By the 1990s, the pair’s research hit gold; their technology was patented and he began reaping millions of dollars a year in royalties.
How Did He Get So Wealthy?
A rich landowner is one thing. A rich farmer is an altogether different and rarer proposition. So, how exactly did Stine reach billionaire status? The simple answer is - by thinking big. According to Celebrity Net Worth, Stine’s various companies have grown to such an extent they now account for 60% of all the U.S. soybean acreage. He also makes millions in patent royalties after licensing the rights to his tech to corporations like Syngenta and Monsanto.
Stine might be a simple man, but that doesn’t mean he’s gone unnoticed all these years. Ever since he started making waves in the farming community, he’s been picking up awards left, right, and center. As stineseed.com notes, some of his most notable accreditations include:
- Iowa Jaycees - Iowa’s Outstanding Young Farmer (1973)
- Iowa Chapter of the National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA) - Agrimarketer of the Year (1989)
- Ernst & Young - Entrepreneur of the Year (1989)
- Des Moines - 50 Most Influential Iowans (2000)
- McPherson College - Honorary Doctorate (2002)
- Inaugurated into the Iowa Business Hall of Fame (2003)
- Iowa Biotechnology Association - Entrepreneurial Achievement Award (2007)
- Iowa Farm Bureau Federation - Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award (2007)
- Selected to STEM by STEMconnector’s top 100 CEOs Leaders (2013)
- Forbes 400 - America's top entrepreneurial moguls (2014)
- Forbes - Richest Person in Iowa (2015)
The Man Behind the Billions
Stine may be sat on several billion, but he’s still a simple Iowa boy at heart. He and his family currently live in a modest property just a couple of hundred feet away from the house he grew up in. His drive of choice is a humble Ford F-150 pickup and when he’s not working, he can usually be found indulging his favorite pastimes of collecting mushrooms and playing table tennis. The four children he shares with his wife (Myron, Warren, Brenda, and Lucinda) all work in his companies in some capacity or another, although he’s been keen to allow each to develop their own paths and decide of their own accord whether to join the family business or not. Despite his quiet lifestyle, he does share one activity that’s always proved popular with the rich and famous: philanthropy. Over the years, Stine and his family have contributed huge amounts to various good causes, with some of his most significant gifts going to May Clinic and his old school, McPherson College.
Harry Stine might be well past the usual age of retirement, but he’s got no plans on settling down to a life of golf and daytime TV just yet. “When people always ask when I’ll retire, I say ‘when I get old,’” he tells agprofessional.com. “It could be ten years or whenever feels right. Right now, we’re in the strongest position we’ve ever been.”
Written by Allen Lee
Read more posts by Allen Lee