The History of Lebanon Seaboard Corporation

The Founder

Vernon Bishop’s lifelong dream of owning his own firm became reality in 1947 when he accepted the offer of a 50% share from the plant then known as Central Chemical Corporation of Lebanon. On May 13, 1947 the young chemical engineer became half owner and President of the branch operation. In 1953 because of Vernon’s venturesome nature Central Chemical of Hagerstown offered to sell the remaining interest in the plant to him. Bishop again accepted the offer, became sole owner of the company, and changed the name to Lebanon Chemical Corporation. The late Vernon Bishop’s legacy continues on today throughout the Lebanon community as his generosity continues to touch the lives of so many in various ways.

The Company

It all began in the little town of Lebanon, Pennsylvania. Central Chemical Corporation of Hagerstown, Maryland, purchased an old, dilapidated horseshoe factory on the outskirts of town. Once the home of the Lebanon Drop Forge Company, they quickly renovated and equipped it for making dry mixed fertilizer.

At this time the company had ten employees, two salesmen and sales of $500,000. Three main buildings, situated just north of Avon, housed their entire operation. The largest of the structures was the plant itself. Here fertilizer was blended and sold exclusively to farmers throughout Central Pennsylvania, under the Farm-Rite label.

To the west of the plant was the tobacco building. This is where tobacco stems were ground, then sold as an insecticide because of the nicotine they contained. Although production of tobacco powder was discontinued a short time later, it did help Central Chemical of Lebanon establish itself as a supplier with Sears and Roebuck.

Soon the company expanded its sales, selling bagged fertilizer to farmers on Long Island and producing Sears' 5-10-5 private label fertilizer. This was Lebanon's first venture into the lawn and garden market. Sears had other vendors, but eventually Lebanon took over all their fertilizer business and built a successful association with this retailing giant that lasted over 30 years. In addition to Sears, Lebanon would also come to manufacture and package private label fertilizers for many major chain stores and corporations, including Agrico, Chevron, Eli Lilly and Glorion.

Lebanon was one of the first manufacturers to put weed killer in fertilizer. Originally, it was made using a sprinkling can and a small ribbon mixer. In 1951, the company embarked on an ambitious undertaking to produce pesticides for the United Nation's campaign to eradicate malaria. Its products were shipped worldwide in support of this program for the next twenty years. Manufacturing techniques have come a long way since those early days, and now Lebanon has several production lines dedicated to these combination fertilizer/chemical products.

In the 1950's, the company made another major advance as it learned the process for making "ureaform" controlled release fertilizers from Allied Chemical. This technology employed a process perfected by TVA that was to become the core process for making homogenous lawn and garden fertilizers.

In 1953 Vernon Bishop took sole ownership of the company and changed the name to Lebanon Chemical Corporation. Additionally, the Farm-Rite name was replaced in the red diamond logo with Lebanon. However, as with most young companies, Lebanon Chemical Corporation was soon to experience a few trying times. On a stormy Sunday night on June 23, 1957, a bolt of lightning struck its main business office and insecticide warehouse. The entire structure was destroyed by flames and resulted in $400,000 worth of damage. While most companies would have seen this as a catastrophe, an undaunted Lebanon Chemical saw it as an opportunity to rebuild and better its facility. The next day the business office was relocated and a new warehouse was soon constructed exactly where the old structure stood.

The 60's was a period of rapid growth. First there was a diversification effort - the caged layer egg business. The 40,000+ bird Hinkle Haven chicken business operated for 10 years. But despite various attempts to integrate it with a feed mill and pullet operations, the business remained unprofitable, and Lebanon eventually sold it. The company was more successful at expanding its fertilizer operations through a string of some 30 business acquisitions. First two remote plants - Dayton Fertilizer and Trenton Bone Company were purchased in 1965 to serve the New York and Long Island markets. By 1967, demand for the nonfarm fertilizer was crowding out production of farm fertilizer at Lebanon, so a plant in Baltimore was purchased from FMC and farm production was moved there. The purchase of Agrico's lawn and garden division brought a number of key personnel to Lebanon and gave the company another plant in Danville, IL. It also provided Lebanon with a stronger foothold in the professional turf and garden markets with three established product lines - Country Club®, Homestead® and Imperial®.

In 1974, Lebanon purchased Eli Lilly's (Elanco) lawn and garden business, complete with customers, trademarks and brand names. Lebanon, who had been manufacturing Elanco's line of Greenfield retail products for years, renamed the new company GreenView® to retain as much as its former brand identity as possible. At the same time, the farm division was undergoing steady growth. Smith Douglas, one of Lebanon's key competitors, sold Lebanon their business on Delmarva and then two years later their division in Virginia. This gave Lebanon its first production facilities on the Eastern Shore as well as another granulation plant in Virginia.

In 1985, Lebanon ventured into the liquid fertilizer market by buying Tidewater Agricorp, who had a significant market presence in southern Virginia and North Carolina. More liquid fertilizer plants were acquired from Royster, who sold its Delmarva business to Lebanon two years later. The further purchase of W.B. Tilghman's operation on Delmarva in 1988 gave Lebanon a dominant market presence in this strategic farming region and firmly entrenched it in the liquid fertilizer business. All of these entities soon became a coordinated division under the Lebanon Agricorp name.

Meanwhile, Vernon Bishop, the company's founder and guiding force for its first forty years, realized that the management team he had assembled and which had been responsible for the company's tremendous growth, was approaching retirement age. So in 1987, he enticed his daughter, Katherine Bishop, a physicist with a MBA degree then working in Australia, to join the corporation.

The 90's brought a new direction, and a new name, to Lebanon Chemical. The GreenView® products division had branched out earlier into a GreenView® branded grass seed line. In 1993, its supplier, Seaboard Seed Company, along with its sister company, Stanford Seed Company, were available for purchase. Sensing a strategic fit in this allied area, Lebanon quickly closed the deal and was immediately launched into the grass seed and wild bird food businesses. To better identify its new corporate structure, the company changed its name to Lebanon Seaboard Corporation.

The professional division, LebanonTurf Products, also broadened its product offerings as a result of being able to add grass seed to its established Country Club® and Greenskeeper® fertilizer lines. Soon Lebanon started to develop its own proprietary seed varieties, growing them in the key Oregon and Washington areas. Its production capabilities on the West Coast were also expanded to further support this growth.

The Seaboard and Stanford acquisition also opened a new market category, for both companies were in the wild bird food business. Seaboard sold mass market products such as Song 'n Beauty® to national chains, while Stanford had established a premium line - Lyric®, in the northeast specialty market.

A new distribution center strategy was formulated to maximize warehouse capacity and speed inventory retrieval and shipment. Several freak snowstorms during the winter of 1996 threatened to bury this strategy for a time under a mountain of heavy wet snow. The combined accumulations brought down two of Lebanon's largest warehouses, destroying 150,000 square feet of storage area. Just as it had when faced with similar catastrophes, Lebanon seized the opportunity to rebuild, improve and expand. A 200,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art distribution center was constructed, supported by the latest distribution and manufacturing resource planning information technology.

In 1998, Lebanon made the difficult, yet strategic decision to turn away from its agricultural roots and sell its farm division. It was then able to focus its resources entirely on growth opportunities in the expanding professional turf and consumer lawn and garden markets. The purchase of two companies that same year helped to further diversify and enhance the corporation's abilities to meet these goals. Penn Turf Products, maker of a unique seed establishment mulch known as Pennmulch®, was acquired. Lebanon also bought the professional division of Pursell Industries. Its Par-Ex® brand, formulated with IBDU®, was added to Lebanon's stable of golf course products. Manufacturing facilities were upgraded to provide production capabilities for this exclusive nitrogen source. In addition, Lebanon obtained the rights to an enhanced methylene urea technology under the brand name Meth-Ex®.

Lebanon's commitment to aggressive, new product research and development continues to bring advancements in nitrogen technology and the creation of new product lines that out-perform competitive brands. In 2000, Lebanon launched a revolutionary methylene urea with sulfate of ammonia product named Mesa®, followed shortly by Expo®, which added sulfate of potash to the methylene urea base. Lebanon's seed breeding program has also been successful in producing a number of the world's best proprietary seed varieties - top-rated for quality by the national Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP).

In 2008 Lebanon Seaboard acquired the Emerald Isle™ line of products from Milliken & Co. Emerald Isle™ premium foliar fertilizers and other granular nutrition products were added to the Professional Products offering. These specialized products even further broaden Lebanon's ability to address the golf course superindendent's turfgrass management needs through advanced foliar nutrition. Lebanon works with Ocean Organics to produce the high quality sea plant extract and foliar products that are an essential part of the Emerald Isle™ product line.

Roots® was acquired by Lebanon Seaboard from Novozymes, a global leader in biotechnology solutions across a wide range of industries. The Roots® Turf brand is an all-in-one nutrient delivery system that feeds the plant while enhancing the biological life of the soil and plant ecosystem. Roots® products are used on golf and sports turf, as well as for lawn care, sod and hydro seeding to provide consistent color response, improved turf density and root mass. The acquisition reinforced Lebanon’s commitment to the emerging field of biological plant nutrition.

To further strengthen Lebanon Seaboard Corporation as the leader in the biofertility category a division of Plant Health Care, Inc. was acquired in January 2011. The U.S. horticulture and turf division of Plant Health Care, Inc. was acquired to increase the products serving golf course superintendents and landscape professionals. PHC is regarded as a pioneer among manufacturers of biologically based products for all segments of the green industry. Among other areas, the company is highly respected for its research applied to fertility products incorporating beneficial microbes, mycorrhizal fungi and soil nutrients.

Today, Lebanon Seaboard is a world class, single-source producer of lawn and garden supplies, wild bird food, and professional turf and horticultural products. Once a single plant in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, it now operates 8 producing locations in 6 states and employs over 300 people. Its professional divisionleads the field in terms of product diversity and innovation, providing turf professionals worldwide with products that deliver optimal results. Its retail division is one of the nation's premium suppliers of consumer products, recognized for its cutting edge technology, differentiated packaging and niche marketing.

Lebanon Seaboard Corporation has prospered over half a century in an industry constantly challenged by change, financial stress, and strong competition. It continues to remain resilient and dedicated to the industries which it proudly serves.

The Products

The company’s Sears' 5-10-5 private label fertilizer was the first product in the lawn and garden market for the then Central Chemical, which led to many other private label fertilizers being produced. Early on Lebanon was on the cutting edge of technology becoming one of the first manufacturers to produce fertilizer with weed killer included. The next major advance was made by learning the process of making “ureaform” controlled release fertilizers. While continuing to manufacture high quality fertilizers and weed control products for both the lawn and garden industry and the agriculture industry Lebanon Seaboard next ventured into the grass seed and wild bird food industries. Proprietary grass seeds were soon developed, as well as premium bird seed. To compliment its′ fine grass seed Lebanon next added the production of a unique seed establishment mulch know as Penn Mulch®. Lebanon has remained in the fore front of technology in the fertilizer and weed control industry by introducing Par-Ex® with IBDU® and exclusive nitrogen source, Meth-Ex® an enhanced methylene urea technology, Mesa® a methylene urea with sulfate of ammonia, and Expo® with sulfate of potash added to the methylene urea base. The acquisition of the Emerald Isle™ line of products enabled Lebanon Seaboard to add premium foliar fertilizers and additional granular nutrition products to the extensive Professional products offering. The seed breeding program also continues to flourish producing some of the worlds’ best proprietary seed varieties.