— Developing growers’ solutions from one of their own
— If there’s one thing Frank Diehl doesn’t do, it’s wait for someone else to solve his problems.
Originally from Pennsylvania, Diehl grew up in Manatee County and began farming in the Ruskin area of Hillsborough County in 1965. He started out growing squash and watermelon, moving to tomatoes a few years later.
Most of the Ruskin acreage was affected by development over the years, and so today Diehl’s team grows most of the operation’s tomatoes farther east in the Wimauma area. The operation also owns a packinghouse that ships its tomatoes as well as those of other area growers. Today Frank Diehl Farms harvests round tomatoes from the end of October until June, with a six-week break in the winter.
But Frank Diehl Farms isn’t just about tomatoes. Frank and his family have been raising and training quarter horses for about 20 years. They own an arena and stables dedicated to training horses for cutting, a sport developed by working cowboys to measure a horse and rider’s skill at separating sick cattle from their herd.
And there’s more.
Diehl wanted to make fungicides and insecticides he used in the tomato operation more efficient. So he dedicated himself to creating products that would accomplish that.
“Frank invented the Synbiont products, put the chemistry together and patented the product,” said his nephew, James Holloway, a managing partner in the business. “It came from Frank’s experience in the fields, and years of extensive testing.”
Diehl created Synbiont Crop Enhancer to make those fungicides and insecticides work better than traditional products at controlling bacterial and fungal diseases. He also developed Synbiont Fruit and Vegetable Wash, an environmentally friendly cleaning product used in packinghouses. It enhances food safety efforts and reduces post-harvest decay.
The products were designed to remove the substrate, or base, on which microbes live, and enhance sanitizers, fungicides, and pesticides. The chemistry is a blend of biodegradable products that are EPA- and FDA-compliant.
Because Diehl also trains horses, he thought the products could be helpful there as well. He developed Synbiont Agricultural Wash to provide animal owners and facilities that care for animals with an environmentally friendly and effective product to kill harmful pathogens. Other products include a kennel wash and wound-care product.
“That pushed us from the farm world into the animal health world. Animal facilities and horse operations all across the country use our product to help them reach their biosecurity protocols,” Holloway said. “They spray the product in the stalls, on the wash racks and in the common areas to help suppress bacteria and viruses.
“We’ve learned a lot from the equine world,” Holloway said. “We’ve gotten into the kennels and groomers as well. That’s because when you drop a dog off for boarding, you don’t know who he’s going to be next to, and the kennels want to eliminate contamination. Dairies also have come on board.”
Holloway said they spent eight to nine years blending and testing both the agriculture and animal health products over and over to increase efficacy, working with third parties. “We’ve been very slow and methodical with that. If we don’t know the answer to something, we get the product tested and validated, and then we’re able to introduce it,” said Holloway. “The research is extensive. We work with the University of Florida/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center and other third-party laboratories in Gainesville and Miami. We had plant validation studies done in our facilities, and they show the enhancing effect our products have on sanitizing solutions.”
Diehl’s team manufactures the product at its packinghouse in Ruskin under the direction of another of Frank’s nephews, Chris Diehl. “We’ve got a dedicated wing in our facility that houses the manufacturing equipment. Chris blends it and personally oversees every batch and makes sure that each lot conforms to a strict set of parameters, as well as all documentation and traceability. All the technical stuff is done by Chris and his team at the packinghouse,” Holloway said.
The company uses distributors to market to its farm clientele. “We have good relationships with our distributors. They give us good exposure, and in turn we’re able to offer them something that differentiates them from their competition,” Holloway said. “We can’t be at all the trade shows educating customers. They do a good job for us.
“We want to wear the manufacturer’s hat,” Holloway said. “We want to do the efficacy part. We want to make sure that the blend is right … We don’t outsource any of that. All of that is done in-house, and that’s a critical step for us.”
“It’s especially important for us because we’re one of our own biggest customers,” said Chris Diehl. “We don’t want to go out and put an inferior product on millions of dollars of our crops.”
“The guy who invented it is still farming,” Holloway said. “It’s a very symbiotic relationship where he understands what customers want to hear and how they want it to work and what studies are important for a grower to change his mind if he’s using a competing product. We ARE growers.”
“It is personally satisfying to me that all of our customers; vegetable growers, equine facilities, veterinarians, dairy farms, pork and poultry facilities all give us great positive feedback of how our products make a difference for them in each one of their industries,” said Frank Diehl. “That’s what it’s all about.”