It was November 1979 when Dr. Leroy Everson hired the current Iowa State University Seed Lab Manager, Michael “Mike” Stahr, as a student seed analyst. While Mike’s passion for seeds has now spanned over 40 years, his love of agriculture is his DNA. Mike’s parents both grew up on farms and moved to Iowa when Mike was a young child. The family started farming in 1969, near Ogden, where Mike’s grandparents soon joined them.
“We had our own Living History Farm as we harvested corn by hand and put loose hay in the hayloft,” Mike said. “I married a farmer’s daughter and have been privileged to assist my in-laws in farming for more than 40 years. Julie and I live on the farm just south of Boone that has been in her family since around 1845.”
Dating back more than 100 years, from the early research of George Washington Carver, the ISU Seed Laboratory at the Iowa State University (ISU) Seed Science Center (SSC) has proven itself as a leader in seed science. It is the largest public seed-testing laboratory in the world, employing staff certified in purity, germination, and testing of biotech traits. Under Mike’s leadership, the ISU Seed Lab tests on more than 300 species of crops, vegetables and flowers with a minimum of 24 million seeds per year (which equates to thousands of seed samples).
“Mike has a wealth of technical expertise in seed testing. His expertise was recognized at the highest level when he was elected to serve as the President of the Association of Seed Analysts (AOSA),” said Dr. Manjit Misra, ISU Seed Science Director. “Mike’s technical expertise, combined with his dedication to customer service, contributed to the success of the Seed Lab.”
Stahr served as the AOSA board president twice and was presented with their prestigious Merit award in 2015. Past winners include widely known and respected people like author and researcher Dr. Miller McDonald from Ohio State, Dr. Loren Wiesner from Colorado, and Dr. Leroy Everson from Iowa State.
“AOSA has been around since 1908, and at one award a year, I am part of a relatively small group of recipients,” Mike said. “I am pleased and humbled to be in such good company.”
Mike worked his way up through the ranks at the ISU Seed Lab and was promoted to manager in 2007. He and the ISU Seed Lab staff have mentored hundreds of student workers and made a profound impact on the ISU Seed Lab and seed industry as a whole. Many of Mike’s former students are now serving significant roles throughout the agriculture industry.
“The students in the seed lab learn the value of seed to agriculture through hands-on training,” said Misra. “They come from all different backgrounds and technical disciplines. At the SSC, they learn how to become strong team members and often go on to become industry leaders. The seed industry is the beneficiary of this teamwork!”
Mike encourages his staff to continue their education as well as receive training and certifications that will further their careers. But much of his success comes from his “hands-on” style of management. He does not spend his days in his office. He enjoys working with students and staff and sees it as his responsibility as a manager to share the workload with them.
“One of the things that had the biggest impression on me while I was working on my Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Management from ISU was learning that in Japan management level employees were required to “work the floor” at least once a year to keep in touch with what the company produced and what the workers did,” Mike said. “I never have and never will, ask a staff person, temp or student to do anything I wouldn’t gladly do myself.”