Otis Fuller was selling and servicing tractors and equipment in the Rio Grande Valley one day 18 years ago when a customer asked him if he could design an onion planter that would plant four seed rows to a bed.
Otis told the customer, one of the biggest vegetable growers in the Valley, he would put some thought to the project.
Fuller returned to his dealership in Beeville and sketched out a concept.
He and his employees built the customized planter in the service shop.
“I made 13 trips to the Valley to fine-tune the planter before I got it just right,” he recalled.
The customer liked what he saw and purchased the planter.
The larger harvest — and the planter that brought about the higher yield — came to the attention of other vegetable farmers in the Valley.
“Before I knew it, I had orders for seven or eight more,” Otis recalled.
He decided to call Tony Bakker, president of Monosem, which builds and distributes planters worldwide, to see if he would be interested in producing and marketing the onion planter.
“I drove right down to Beeville to see what he had,” said Bakker, whose firm had had a business relationship with Fuller Tractor Co. for almost 10 years.
“I knew he wouldn’t have called me if he didn’t think he was onto something,” Bakker said.
Bakker said he took Otis’ original sketches back to Monosem’s headquarters in Kansas, and had his engineers draw up a schematic for mass production.
Now, almost two decades later, Otis’ vegetable planter is sold worldwide.
“The Chinese are using the planter to plant carrots; the Russians are using it to plant cabbage; and in Saudi Arabia they’re using the planter to plant onions,” Bakker said.
Ross Ayler, western territory manager for Monosem, said Otis’ planter is the biggest selling vegetable planter in the United States.
“More than 50 percent of all vegetables grown in the United States are planted with Otis’ vegetable planter,” he said.
Otis said Del Monte Co. uses the planter to plant one million carrot seeds per acres.
“The planter has been very successful and it’s only going to become more successful as the world’s population expands,” Bakker said.
Billie Sue Fuller, Otis’ wife, said the popular vegetable planter has helped create jobs in the United States.
“Sixty percent of the planters are built right here in this country,” she boasted.
Otis takes the kudos from Bakker in stride.
“I was only trying to help a customer,” he recalled.
It’s not the first time Otis has developed an original piece of equipment to help farmers and ranchers.
He’s also developed an implement that can pull out huisache trees by the root rather than mowing them down with a bulldozer.
“Otis believes there’s more to business than just selling and servicing tractors and equipment,” his wife said. “He believes in going the extra mile to help his customers, and that’s why we’ve been so successful.”
Bakker and Ayler visited Otis, Billie Sue and their son, King, last week to present them with a plaque of appreciation for 29 years of commitment to Monosem and selling over 10,000 rows of planters.
“When we first started out, we only had a small office and a part-time secretary,” Bakker recalled.
At that time, Bakker was importing planting equipment from Europe. Otis and King spotted one of the implements almost three decades ago and thought they could sell them out of their Beeville store.
They called around to find out who was importing the machinery.
Bakker just happened to be in Victoria at the time searching for distributors.
“Of course, I rushed right over to Beeville,” he recalled.
The fortuitous phone call developed into a close personal relationship between the two companies over the past three decades, Bakker said.
“Fuller Tractor Co. not only helped us survive those first few years we were in business, it helped us thrive and grow into the successful company we are today,” he said.