Seedsmen Hall of Fame
Honoring Horticulturalists

Cantaloupes and Customers Are King for D. V. Burrell Seed Growers
Family's fourth generation continues service tradition.
by
Frank Zaworski

Bill and Rick Burrell (pronounced as the gem, beryl) are the fourth generation to continue the tradition of customer satisfaction at D. V. Burrell Seed Growers, which gained early fame for outstanding varieties of cantaloupes and other melons.

A line in the D. V. Burrell Seed Growers Company catalog states, "No seedsman can hope to survive the critical judgment of the trade unless his product consistently delivers satisfaction.” After 102 years in the seed business, survival is no longer a question for this Rocky Ford, Colorado, purveyor of seed products for commercial growers, florists and home gardeners.

Bill and Rick Burrell (pronounced as the gem, beryl) are the fourth generation to continue the tradition of customer satisfaction at D. V. Burrell Seed Growers, which gained early fame for outstanding varieties of cantaloupes and other melons.

As Rick explains, great-grandfather Delvin Victor (D. V.) Burrell moved to Colorado in 1895 to begin a farming operation near Rocky Ford which is situated on the rich sandy loam soils of the Arkansas River Valley. Once settled in, D. V. found a need in the area for local production of cantaloupe seed. He started raising seed for local producers and soon after for seed companies located in the East. The seed production business was gathering steam.

In 1900, D. V. opened a seed house on 405 North Main in downtown Rocky Ford. D. V. Burrell's first seed catalog was printed in 1902 and distributed to commercial growers and home gardeners in the region. At the same time, Burrell continued to develop the wholesale seed business and made huge strides through the refinement of the "Rocky Ford” type cantaloupe.

D. V. Burrell Seed Growers today are still located in that seed house on Rocky Ford's Main Street. Step through the doors and you step back in time to another era. Hardly anything has changed in the store (computers and other electronics are hidden away in upstairs offices) since D. V. passed the business down to his only child, son Harold, who then passed it on to his son Bill, Sr., who in 1990, upon official retirement, passed the business on to his sons Bill, Jr., and Rick.

"Bill and I got our start in this seed company working the business end of a hoe,” says Rick Burrell. "We grew up right along with the business and today take pleasure in providing leadership for the company.”

Rick works the sales end of the business. Older brother Bill serves as production manager and Rick's wife, Jenine, provides sales expertise and office management.

On a poundage basis, the bulk of Burrell's seed business comes from the wholesale arena, followed by the commercial roadside market. The home gardener provides a third, but no less important, market.

While marketing a wide array of seed products, Burrell specializes in cantaloupes, watermelons, pumpkins, squash and onions. They also produce Zinnia seed for other seed companies as well as for their own catalog.

Over the years, the Burrell family has improved many public varieties and they are proud of their proprietary genetics such as the watermelons 'Daisy' and 'Navajo Sweet', and a long day onion famously known as 'Burrell's Yellow Valencia', an All-America Selections winner that is resistant to thrips and is said to be one of the largest and heaviest yielding strains of Sweet Spanish.

While the fundamentals of running a seed business have not changed much over the past century, Rick says customers have become more technical, needing more sophisticated information. "Even the home gardeners are asking more in-depth questions,” Rick said. "The roadside market people are also much more technical. I guess we have kind of had to fill the gap left by the vanishing extension agent.”

The Burrell seed catalog reflects customers' need for in-depth information. The catalog is chock-a-block with finely detailed descriptions of offerings and extensive growing recommendations. The discussion of triploid watermelon seed germination, emergence and cross-pollination is particularly informative for growers wanting to tackle these challenging critters.

D. V. Burrell Seed Growers continues to add new products to their line-up. Some of the new additions include hybrid cantaloupe Pikes Peak, a full-season highly uniform variety good for long distance shipping; triploid watermelon 'Mt. Shavano' with its dark red flesh and medium rind; and hybrid watermelon 'Mt. Antero', excellent quality Allsweet-type. Rick Burrell says all watermelon seed has been tested for Watermelon Fruit Blotch before it is made available for sale.

D. V. Burrell Seed Growers does many things the old fashioned way. As the company simply states in their 2002 catalog, "We are Old Fashioned because we care about our customers


Source: Seed World June 2002 Vol: 140 Num: 6, Copyright © 2005 Scranton Gillette Communications. Frank Zaworski is editor of Seed World.


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