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Q&A: Country singer and ag business owner Levi Riggs
From the time he sang in church with his grandmother as a child, Levi Riggs has had a love for music. Born on a dairy farm in Indiana, Riggs went on to study his passion of agriculture at Purdue University where he simultaneously found the Purdue Glee Club to continue his love of country music.
Today, Riggs tours the country singing his own music while also managing Riggs Ag Solutions, a farmer-focused seed business providing specialty hybrid seed genetics backed by Bayer. I caught up with Riggs in the heat of planting season.
SF: What sparked your passion to study agriculture and seed production?
My family had a Jersey dairy farm, and I grew up showing dairy cattle and milking. When my grandfather passed away, my uncle decided to get out of the dairy business and my dad decided to take a different career path alongside my other uncle in animal pharmaceutical sales. I decided to take the path to Purdue, still interested in agriculture but not sure of my own place in it yet.
My first internship was with Remington Seeds in its seed production unit. That led me to another internship in seed production. That spark and interest just started to grow for me in the seed production and sales side of agriculture.
I’ve come to really enjoy seed sales because of the people and culture; 99% of the farms I pull onto are really welcoming and it becomes fun to help farmers. Once you learn to become valuable, you’re a resource and farmers are always looking for information. I feel that if I can bring something to the table of value and purpose, they’ll see me as that resource. That’s something I really focus on every time I pull onto a farm.
SF: How did Riggs Ag Solutions get established?
Internships are really how my interest grew in seed production and seed sales. After graduating from Purdue, I took a job with Syngenta as a district sales manager selling seed. Simultaneously, I continued singing with the varsity glee club, touring throughout the U.S.
From there, I managed a Golden Harvest brand and their dealers, and the music thing was rising at the same time I was excelling in my career. I took a step back and realized I wanted to be more of a seed adviser and not a company rep anymore. So, I started my own business of Riggs Ag Solutions in 2012 in conjunction with Bayer. We sell to farmers in Indiana and Illinois and also do custom seed treatment for my customers and other companies. That’s what I’ve been working on here lately.
SF: How did your music career get started and how has it grown?
The band started singing with the glee club in college. We do the annual Purdue Musical Program (PMO) Christmas every year that airs on PBS. While at Purdue, I had the opportunity to sing at Carnegie Hall, Times Square, the Crystal Cathedral, and even perform for people like Neil Armstrong.
It was such a memorable experience and I loved it. But at the same time, I had these agriculture rural roots and a dream of playing my own music. Surprisingly, that all came to fruition when I had the opportunity to open for Brett Eldridge and The Band Perry at Elliot Hall of Music, where the PMO Christmas Show was. That’s when my dream truly became a reality.
It’s continued to grow from there. We’ve done shows across the country opening for country singers including Justin Moore, Josh Turner, Travis Tritt, and just a lot of talented artists.
It’s fun for me and shocking to some farmers when I pull into a new farm and introduce myself and say, “Hey, I’m Levi Riggs” – because they might have heard me on Spotify or Pandora – and they’re like, “The singer? No way!”
At the end of the day, I’m just trying to help farmers and be a resource to them. That’s really what’s going on right now with the COVID-19 pandemic. The people in our industry are out doing what they have to do – taking care of the cattle and their hogs and doing their best to go about their normal routine.
I’ve also been doing Facebook lives on my page with my music. We’re supposed to be on tour this summer. I’ve gone live on radio stations across the country as well on Tuesday nights. Under the unfortunate circumstance of this pandemic, it’s become a new opportunity for artists to engage listeners they probably would have never come across. It’s a fun and different way for people wanting to hear new music and wanting to be inspired. Being a part of it is so rewarding.
SF: How do you juggle your double life successfully?
After we get everything planted, I’ll be out playing county fairs in the summer and working on the business’s priorities while scheduling concerts. I’m really living a double life, but the cycles work well together.
The touring season starts in late spring and starts to die down beginning of fall so then we’re harvesting and selling seed and throughout the wintertime. I have this system that really works well for me to keep me busy all year long doing totally different things. The busier I am, the more focused and successful I feel I can become.
It’s also about the relationships and people you meet along the way. While I was managing seed dealers before I started Riggs Ag Solutions, I was attending events across the state with their customers and building friendships. Those friendships and relationships developed into concerts, performances, and dinners. The two passions have just really married up and grown together.
SF: Are you able to meet with farmers and get on farm throughout COVID-19?
I’ve got some farms that say please call in advance who have elderly folks that we want to be respectful of. There’s a lot of farmers in the age bracket where COVID is pretty disastrous, so I’m cautious. Overall, it’s really a case-by-case basis. We all just keep a safe distance from each other and eliminate where you contaminate things.
SF: How are you feeling about the 2020 planting season?
I feel pretty optimistic. I think that’s the one saving grace right now. Even though we’re dealing with COVID-19, Mother Nature is still doing what she does. It’s that faith we have as agriculturalists and always trying to be optimistic. 2019 was rough for almost everybody. Prevent plant impacted nearly 20% of my business. As far as the rain patterns, we’ve been getting short, heavy rains of 2 to 3 inches at a time instead of light showers. Like a lot of people, that’s changed our tactics as our windows are tighter than they used to be, so we have to be on our game.
SF: Have you released any latest songs or albums?
I released “Can’t Cool Me Off” last summer. We did a really cool music video to that. Rolling into this year I wrote the song “Cash Black.” I’m a big Johnny Cash fan and I just wrote the song weaving in some elements of his songs and life. It’s kind of a country heartbreaker. Everyone was going pop country, and I went the other direction and went back to a traditional country song. I just love country music and I think that’s where we’re at right now. The bands can’t get together and the DJs can’t play so it’s just a lot of guys playing acoustic, which brings you back into the roots of country music.
SF: What’s the most rewarding part of your musical career?
I think it’s really impacting people and inspiring people. I spend a lot of time saying hi to fans. I might spend 90 minutes on stage, but I’ll spend a couple hours afterwards signing autographs, taking photos, and getting to know the fans that come out and support us. That’s really what I enjoy the most – being one-on-one with our supporters and fans.