“Corn is king” for business partners, who each supply their own kernels of experience

Nov 18, 2022 | About Us

Tom Proepper, the chief operating officer of TerraMax, sits at his desk, an enormous picture of an ear of corn looming behind him and dominating the light gray walls, dwarfing the image of the Huey helicopter on the adjacent calendar. An office phone rings nearby. Proepper is wearing a polo shirt. It’s the end of a long day, and he’s looking forward to getting home to his family. “Those are the things that really matter,” Proepper says of his role caring for his kids and his parents, and of his hobbies: classic motorcycles and reading.

Proepper looks perfectly at ease in his environment. You might assume that Proepper has spent his career in agriculture, but he took a different route to running the business side of TerraMax. “I didn’t know I’d have a picture of corn behind me, but it symbolizes that corn is king in this day and age,” Proepper says. After all, one of TerraMax’s most popular products is their microbial inoculant for corn.

“I don’t have a farming background, and that’s the first thing I tell people because I want them to know if they’re an agronomist or a farmer, they can teach me way more than I already know about this business.” Proepper’s down-to-earth approach says a lot about why TerraMax is successful as a company. His calm and steady demeanor is a balance and a boon to TerraMax founder and CEO Doug Kremer.

Proepper and Kremer have been friends for 46 years. “In a sense, we’ve been in the trenches of life together,” Kremer says of their long-standing friendship. When Kremer went to college to study science, Proepper went to business school. He gained a wealth of management and sales experience working for a large corporation, where he managed production processes, organized materials and teams of people, and crafted messaging for different distributors. When Kremer needed help with the business management side of things at TerraMax, Proepper was the expert he called.

Proepper thought, “Here’s my next opportunity to grow and shape a business that would really add value to food production and addressing climate change.” Right away, Proepper stepped in to provide accounting and process management, ensuring consistency in how TerraMax’s products were being made and measuring raw materials when they came in.

This careful precision is part of what makes Proepper a steady leader. “He takes his time and makes sure he thinks through every aspect before he makes a decision,” says TerraMax’s national sales manager, Josh Doerr. “He single-handedly kept TerraMax afloat during COVID with his smart financial management, whereas other companies might have folded.”

“He’s the perfect yin to Doug’s yang,” Doerr adds. Kremer agrees with that assessment. “Tom is hard-working, intelligent, and his skill set complements mine nicely in running our company.”

Proepper takes his time to ensure every detail is correct. “Doug is a complete idealist,” adds Proepper, “with the expectation that the best way to do something may not be the easiest way to do it. He’s a perfectionist when it comes to the science.” He pauses. “He helps me understand what is scientifically possible. I’m quite the realist when it comes to business finances, and Doug will listen to me if I say there’s no market for an item.”

Between Kremer’s scientific aptitude and Proepper’s business acumen, TerraMax has a formula for success. “This stuff really works,” Proepper says. “TerraMax is unique in that we’ve been doing this for 20-plus years. We are deeply focused on making sure our products are founded in the science, and our products have a return for the growers.” TerraMax answers to the most important people in the chain — the farmers. TerraMax’s unique soil inoculants help crops harness nitrogen naturally and improve soil health year after year of successive use.

Proepper and his colleagues at TerraMax care about reducing nitrogen runoff from farmland, minimizing the carbon costs of producing nitrogen products for crops and ensuring precious fertile soil is strengthened and usable for future generations. Proepper is practical, which is why his confidence in TerraMax’s potential sounds more like a forecast than unbridled optimism. When it comes to how TerraMax’s products can benefit farmers and the environment, Proepper smiles, “the opportunities are boundless.”