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Nearly a year into COVID-19, seed industry is booming

Almost a year into COVID-19, the domestic seed industry is flourishing.

“A lot of seed companies are selling out. Some warehouses are empty of seed. They’re having an incredible year,” said Angie Smith, executive director of the Oregon Seed Association.

Industry leaders say when the pandemic hit last March, there was an alarming lull in sales. But from about April on, experts say sales took off in most seed sectors and the momentum has continued into 2021.

The specialty seed sector, including vegetable and flower seeds, is blooming on the retail level. Last year, Americans nationwide planted a record number of gardens. Extension agents at the time wondered whether people’s interest in gardening would carry into 2021. So far, the answer appears to be “yes.”

“The season started off awfully strong again,” said Tom Johns, president of Territorial Seed Co. in Cottage Grove, Ore. “When our catalog came out around January, we had a very high volume of orders that was equal to or surpassed the peak of the pandemic last year.”

Territorial has had so many orders, Johns said, that he and his wife, who usually take off Sundays, have worked extra.

Territorial’s farm operation supplies about 17% of its seed; the company buys the remainder from seed producers worldwide, including contracting with local growers.

Along with vegetables, Johns said people are also buying flower seeds to “decorate” their yards.

Farmers who grow vegetable seed for commercial-scale farms say that market has been less stable during the pandemic, but many seed crops are still performing well.

People are still spending more time and money on landscaping — a boon for grass seed companies.

“It feels like, in the retail sector at least, people went crazy buying,” said James Schneider, president and CEO of Barenbrug USA, a grass seed supplier.

Schneider estimated residential retail makes up about 60% of total grass seed industry sales. Year over year, from 2019 to 2020, he said residential sales of grass seed increased 25%, and sales this spring are projected to jump 5% to 20%.

When sports fields closed last spring, sales of commercial and sports seed mixes initially took a hit. But as sports teams adapted — for example, by filling the stands with cardboard fans — sales returned to normal.

Golf courses, experts say, ordered record poundage of seed because more people have picked up the sport during the pandemic.

“Golf has had a resurgence they haven’t seen since Tiger Woods. We’ve picked up a whole new generation of golfers,” said Scott Harer, vice president at Columbia Seeds, another grass seed company.

Kent Whittig, Western regional sales representative at Allied Seed LLC, a forage, turfgrass and cover crop seed company, said cover crop seed is also in demand, along with warm season annuals, including teff, millet and sorghum.

In general, industry leaders told the Capital Press the forage sector remained fairly static through the pandemic.

“Animals still need to eat regardless of COVID,” said Schneider of Barenbrug USA.

The only change, which experts say is probably not pandemic-related, has been a gradual trend toward more farmers planting higher-end forages.

Originally published in the Capital Press.

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Proprietary Grass Seed Business Prioritizes Quality

Becky Meeuwsen Berger’s grass seed business evolves to prioritize quality and family harmony

Whether she’s meeting with potential buyers in China, weighing a new crop option or sitting at a table surrounded by her family council, Becky Meeuwsen Berger knows difficult times don’t define you – they propel you. And, through hard work and focus, no challenge is too great.

“I’ve been through some tough times, but those tough times make everything else easier,” Berger says.

Around 45 years ago, Berger married into a farming family. The operation, headquartered in Hillsboro, Ore., focused on turf grass seed production. Her father-in-law retired early, so her husband took over. At age 30, Berger’s husband was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which eventually took his life in 2011.

Seeing and understanding the need, Berger slowly started absorbing more and more responsibilities with the farm. This was no easy feat as her family business included a dysfunctional business partner — her brother-in-law.

Berger knew this a toxic relationship and conflicting philosophies were crippling the business. She couldn’t stand by and watch the operation built by her father-in-law and husband, who had both passed away, crumble.

“It took me three years to buy him out, but now we are all pulling in the same direction,” Berger says. “Therefore, it is so important to me that my children, the next generation that will inherit this business, work cohesively in positive ways so we can successfully continue the business.”

New Leader, New Focus

Today, Berger is CEO of Berger International. The business primarily produces tall fescue seed, however it also includes 3,200 acres of wheat, red clover, hemp and hazelnut production.

Most grass seed farms grow seed under contract. About a decade ago, Berger purchased a few proprietary varieties to grow and market independently.

“Our goal was to capitalize on our reputation for being a top-quality producer,” she says. “It’s not risk-free, but we are receiving a nice premium (10%-15%) over contracted seed. Little by little we just built market share. We are now selling our products into China and this year marked our first sale into Europe.”

Currently Berger International has contract growers of its own. As a vertically integrated operation, Berger and her team ensure the quality of their seed from planting to cleaning to bagging to storing to shipping. The operation’s seed cleaning facility also features a 1,000-sq.-ft. weatherproof storage facility.

Berger meets personally with buyers — building new relationships in an industry where relationships have been in place for a long time.

“It has surprised me how much I enjoyed selling,” she says. “It has taken me out of my comfort zone and been a real personal growth opportunity. Luckily, it’s easy to talk about your products when you are confident and proud of what you’re doing.”

Berger isn’t afraid of change. Her innovative approach has led her to recapitalize the farm, revamp the company’s organizational structure expand into new crops and form a family council, says Kevin Adams, CEO of The Mountain Group.

“She has progressively stepped up to ensure ongoing operations of the business, following best practices for family business,” Adams says.

“I have consistently referred to Becky as ‘wonder woman,’” adds Joseph Connors, vice president and relationship banking officer with Columbia Bank. “Her tenacity consistently leads to innovation solutions.”

One area Berger knew she needed to focus was financial reporting and analysis. As such, she invested in a farm management software and an inventory accounting system. Now she can determine costs for each pound of grass seed or red clover and tie profit and loss to each acre.

“We are now forecasting three years ahead which helps us plan our crop rotations,” she says.

In addition, the team is upgrading machinery and equipment. They’ve built a one-of-a-kind combination hazelnut and hemp dryer. They’ve also added weather stations to certain fields, which come in handy as the operation spans a 50-mile radius.

All of these investments have a simple goal, Berger says. “We want more data to make more informed decisions.”

The Family Council 

As a survivor of an unhealthy family business arrangement, Berger is devoted to family and team harmony.

“My sisters-in-law didn’t even know they owned stock in the operation until their parents passed away,” Berger says. “I wanted to change that and have financial transparency with my family.”

Berger International employs eight full-time and six part-time team members. This includes some of Berger’s six children, primarily her son Derek, who has worked full time on the farm for 22 years and manages all the crops. Her husband, Earl Meeuwsen, joined the team in 2015 after they married.

A few years ago, Berger created a family council. It includes her children and their spouses. The group meets twice a year. The meetings are led by a consultant and follow an agenda of important topics such as investments, business decisions and community philanthropy.

“The family council has really taken our communication to a much deeper level,” Berger says. “Our tradition is to be very polite and avoid conflict. At times, it can get uncomfortable but, in the end, we have a deeper relationship. We talk about values and goals, which pull us together. It helps bridge that gap between the family members working in the business and those who are not.”

The council is playing a vital role as Berger eyes retirement and the transition of leadership of the business.

“I couldn’t step away tomorrow, nor do I want to,” she says. “That takes planning, hard work and mentoring to hand this over. It won’t happen unless you make a conscious effort to plan and execute it. I don’t want to be the glue that holds this family together. They need to be the glue and share common goals.”

As Berger looks forward, she’s excited for the opportunities ahead for her, her family and the business.

“We’re in a growth stage, after being paralyzed for so many years in a partnership that didn’t work,” she says. “Now that we’re all owned by one person and one family, we’re able to react quicker and respond quicker to industry changes.”

Indeed. Berger’s fearless leadership and focus on family harmony is propelling a family-owned business toward even greater success.

Snapshot of Berger International

Operation: Becky Meeuwsen Berger is CEO of Berger International, which primarily produces proprietary varieties of tall fescue seed. It also includes 3,200 acres of wheat, hemp and hazelnut production.

Family and Team: Berger International employs eight full-time and six part-time team members. This team includes some of Berger’s six children and husband, Earl. A current goal is better work-life balance for the team. “We want to pay people more for working less,” Berger says. “I want them to feel good about coming to work and look forward to coming to work.”

Community: Berger has served on boards for Oregon Grass Seed Bargaining Association, Oregon Seed Council, Oregon Tall Fescue Commissioner and Hazelnut Marketing Board. She created the non-profit organization, Griffin’s Place, which empowers those with intellectual/developmental disabilities to engage in their communities. She was motivated by her youngest son, who is autistic.

Virtually visit Berger International in Hillsboro, Ore., by watching a video about the operation.

Published originally at AgWeb on 11/25/2020

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Barenbrug and Simplot Enter Into Agreement for the Sale of the Jacklin® Seed Business

The Royal Barenbrug Group and the J.R. Simplot Company announced they have agreed on terms for the sale of the Jacklin® Seed business to Barenbrug USA. The transaction is expected to close in the next few weeks, subject to standard closing conditions. Both Simplot and Barenbrug are privately held, family owned companies with storied legacies in agriculture and expect a smooth transition that will benefit Jacklin® Seed employees and both companies.

The combination of Jacklin® Seed’s deep portfolio with Barenbrug’s vision, R&D, and industry leading market development will provide a strong value to turf growers and distributors across the world.

“We warmly welcome Jacklin® Seed’s employees, growers, and customers to our global Barenbrug family,” said John Thijssen, Member Board of Directors, Barenbrug Group. “Their high-quality and wide-ranging seed experience will further strengthen and grow our position as a leading global grass seed supplier. By combining our skills and expertise, we’ll supply a greater range of premium grasses to our customers and create value for all our stakeholders worldwide.”

“We are pleased to partner with Barenbrug in this transaction,” said G. Rey Reinhardt, Simplot AgriBusiness division. “We believe that their ideals and goals as a generational, family-run organization align with ours and that the Jacklin® Seed employees will have a smooth transition into the Barenbrug organization.”

More information will follow after closing.

Originally published in SeedWorld, September 18, 2020

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Local Grass Seed Farm Boy Finds Niche in Developing Fine Whiskey

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local


DUSTIN HERB checks the oil level in a glass of Waterford whiskey as he explains how to experience fine whiskey. Photos by Sarah Brown

Dustin Herb considers his path in life part heritage, part hard work, and mostly luck.

If he could brag about anything – which isn’t a natural trait, he would say it’s that he got paid to go to school to drink beer and whiskey, and travel.

He was not, actually, a big beer drinker at the time, and he “couldn’t stand” whiskey, Herb said.

“I had to learn to love it, and then ended up loving the process behind it and the culture and the people.”

The plant breeder at OreGro has a side hustle in the pioneer development of terroir in whiskey, a movement started by Mark Reynier, founder of Waterford Distillery in Ireland.


Lebanon native Dustin Herb has become an expert in how the environment affects barley used in creating fine whiskey.

“Terroir is the relationship between the plant and the environment, and how it gets into the flavor,” Herb said. “So that’s our aim here, is to figure out how the barley is interacting with the environment in which it’s being grown, and the management – how it’s being grown – and how that contributes to the final product. In this case, whiskey.”

For centuries, terroir has played a significant role in the wine industry. Consumers look at the year, the “vintage,” of a bottle of wine, and they look at its terroir – where the grapes were grown, Herb said. Knowing each year’s climate in a particular location helps determine the quality of what’s in the bottle.

“So that’s a very similar thing that we’re looking at,” he said. “We’ve grown the same (barley) varieties on the same farms in two different soil types that have slightly different climactic regions in southeast Ireland, and they give different weather patterns.”

For the past four years, Herb and Waterford Distillery have been tracking all the data, including results from their weather stations and soil analyses, and working with a trained panel to define flavor aspects. The distillery would have made its first presentation at the World Distilling Conference in Scotland last May, but it was postponed due to COVID.

Herb’s story starts on the family farm in Lebanon.

He was born into one of the families that founded OreGro, a grass seed company out of Albany. Having always worked on the family’s research farm, it was natural for him to want to study turf breeding, but his dad told him instead to “go into something that somebody can eat or drink.”

That was because they were in the middle of the most recent recession.

So Herb attended Oregon State University, intending to study grain.

“Then the brewing thing, distilling, it all just sort of fell into my lap,” he said.

Following advice from a professor, Dr. Pat Hayes, a barley breeder and genetics teacher at OSU, Herb went to Texas A&M University to get his master’s degree. There, he studied energy sorghum.

“I worked with crushing sweet sorghum and carving out the juice and using ethanol for renewable energy.”


Herb stands in his research plot on his family’s Lebanon farm.

Then he returned to OSU for his Ph.D in the Barley Project under Hayes, researching whether barley varieties and their genetics play a role in beer flavor.

“It’s the first time that anybody ever looked at barley as a major flavor contributor to alcohol production,” he said.

Industry leaders always considered the impact that malt, water, yeast and hops made as contributors of flavor, but never barley itself, he said.

Herb also added to his project the consideration of how the environment and the management of barley affects flavor. In other words, the terroir.

To complete his Ph.D, Herb needed to gain funding and experience from breweries across the U.S. They were called the “Flavor Seven Pack:” Sierra Nevada, Bell’s, Deschutes, Firestone Walker, New Glarus, Russian River, and Summit.

Herb also served an internship at Rahr Malting Company, which afforded him the opportunity to visit and work with some nearby funders on the Flavor Project.

Barley flavor is like the canvas of a painting, in terms of beer, he said. If beer is the finished work of art, then barley is the canvas.
“It’s the backbone, it’s the soul of the beer, a canvas on which these brewers paint.”

Brewers add malts of different intensities, hops of different flavors, different yeasts, and they play with the hardness of the water, he said. All those things add to the way the “painting” is going to turn out.

Now, when terroir is added to the metaphor, it becomes a discussion about whether the painting is on canvas material, printer paper, concrete, stainless steel, and so forth.

“You got different canvases now that you can play with,” he said.

Once his Ph.D was complete, Herb presented speeches on his papers. At the World Brewing Conference in 2016, his dissertation about barley variety and growing environment contributions to flavor was presented, and somebody tweeted it, he said.


Herb is with Mark Reynier, CEO of Waterford Distillery, which has added Herb to its research team.
Photo courtesy of waterfordwhisky.com

Enter Waterford Distillery. Reynier, the founder, has long touted the claim that terroir affects whiskey flavor, Herb said. Reynier had just started his new distillery when he saw the tweet, and determined he wanted Herb on his team.

“They wanted me to help design some experiments around their production to see if I could classify their terroir. They had already determined for themselves that terroir existed within whiskey, because they could taste it when they were making the whiskey, but they wanted my help to help quantify that.”

Classifying varieties and terroir is a nuisance for some big industry leaders, who have been selecting barley for consistency in their products for centuries, Herb said.

Many barley varieties have about 10 years of high production rates before they begin to taper and are replaced by varieties that have better disease resistance and better agronomics, Herb said. But a few varieties from the 1960s maintain low, yet constant production that brewers love.

“They always say there’s something about this variety, some kind of flavor, some kind of attribute that makes their beers, their product, unique,” he said.

Part of Herb’s Ph.D studies involved isolating the part of the barley’s genes that contributes to that beloved flavor, and mixing it with barley that has better agronomics.

So when they start establishing that barley varieties have different flavors, and add onto that the terroir aspect, the traditional brewers get nervous because they want their product to taste exactly the same from its original release to 500 years from now, he said.

So how do Herb and his team of sensory panelists classify flavor aspects of the same barley variety grown at different locations? The only way to test it is to taste it.

“It’s a really rough job,” he said with a laugh.

In addition, there are highly sensitive gadgets that isolate compounds of flavor in each whiskey, which are sent through an olfactory test.


Waterford’s whiskey includes details about its ingredients.

As Herb took a sample pack of Waterford’s first release of whiskeys, he explained how to examine its flavors.

First, he said, the glass of whiskey should be rolled in the hands to warm it up.

“When you move it around, the heat is going to help release its volatiles,” he said. “You want to get the ethanol out.”

After he warmed his glass, Herb swooshed the fluid around and observed the “legs” of oil dripping down, which adds a nice quality to whiskey, he said.

“It kind of helps the flavor sort of linger out and have a nice finish.”

Next, he smelled the whiskey to look for the “soul” of the drink. Does it smell like cereal or grain? Will it taste fruity or floral?

“Seems like a dry fruitiness, like an apricot, a slight apricoty, pruney flavor to it,” he said.

Following a first taste, he gave his interpretation, which, he said, can be subjective and vary based on where you’re at at the moment.

“I can taste cloves and ham. You got a little peppery spice to it. It’s got a nice lingering; it kind of sits on the tongue, especially as you breathe through it.”

He added: light floral, a little bit of honey, fresh and dried fruit flavors, and light maltiness.


A sample from a different farm elicited a different analysis: more peppery, more earthy and herbaceous, more cereal, and not as fruity or floral.

“A good way I describe it is barnyard-y, like wet hay cut in the field. It’s dried, but then it rains a little bit and you get that kind of a sharp, sort of a grassy flavor. So it has that sort of a wet hay, slightly pungent (taste).”

Maybe that’s because the sample came from a farm more inland, where the deeper, heavier soils are, he said.

Herb noted that people who “shoot” whiskey, who  typically consume it quickly, from a shot glass, always in a single gulp, are not actually experiencing and enjoying whiskey,” Herb said.

“They just want to get drunk.”

Distilleries such as Waterford spend time and money to make a product that should be enjoyed, he said.

“This has got class. This has got style. This has got craft in it.”

Granted, novices to whiskey will say it all tastes the same, Herb noted. They’ll taste the burn, the alcohol, the spicy smokiness.

It’s connoisseurs and trained tasters who will notice the subtle differences.

A decade ago, Herb said, he would’ve only tasted the burn, the spicy smokiness, and he certainly wouldn’t have been drinking it for fun.

But here he is now, “just a normal person from Lebanon,” growing grass and training specialists to differentiate flavor aspects of terroir in fine whiskey. It’s been a trip.


Dustin shows a sample of Waterford whiskeys while sitting at his river-side property.

“I was not expecting to make the jump from sorghum to barley and beer, and then from barley and beer to whiskey. That was not on my radar at all.”

Addendum: A note from Mark Reynier

“I first learned about Dustin when he published a thesis while at Oregon about the barley flavours, a subject that has been of great interest to me since my days last Bruichladdich Distillery and now at Waterford.

I noticed that during his trials and tests he had somewhat inadvertently demonstrated that the principle of terroir could exists for barley. We got in touch and I explained what I was wanting to do – the definitive proof that terroir exists for barley and the whisky distilled from it; extraordinarily, it appears no one, not even the French, had bothered to proof the concept of terroir; they just accept it as Gospel. So for the last three years we have worked together to do the definite study which will have far reaching implications – a bit of a grenade in the heavily consolidated industry. We are also embarking on a similar trial but for sugar cane and rum in the Caribbean island of Grenada.”

Originally published 8/18/20 in Lebanon Local

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DLF Pickseed Announces New Company Promotions

Over the past couple years, DLF Pickseed has been working on succession planning and development. It is a valuable process to ensure continuity, leadership, and success. As a result of their work and conversations, the company has two exciting changes to share.

Sean Chaney was promoted to vice president of the Pro Turf Division.

Chaney is an Oregon native who has been involved in the Ag community since childhood. His first experience with seed was hands-on – working in fields and warehouses as a teenager. Beginning at age 14 and on to his graduation from the University of Oregon, Sean worked for a local seed producer and marketer. He learned about the seed production process, and was able to bring many of these skills to DLF Pickseed. Chaney was hired 6 years ago, beginning as a buyer and a sales representative. He continued in the buyer role as his sales and brand management duties expanded. As time went on, he also added international sales experience to his resume, something he has been doing for over 3 years now.

During this same period Chaney started a dual-degree program that resulted in a Master of Business Administration from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.  In addition to receiving his degree, he also worked on and received a Masters in Agricultural Business from Purdue University.

Michael Billman was promoted to export director.

Billman is also an Oregon native who grew up in the grass seed country. He graduated from Oregon State University, a passionate Beaver Baseball fan, who began his agricultural career long before college. His vast experience working on seed farms and other local Ag endeavors has helped him with his success over the years.

Billman began his official seed industry career at Zajac Performance Seeds in 1996 in operations. Following his operational role, he decided to join CHS as key account manager. Billman’s next career move was to join International Seeds as a domestic and export sales representative for five years. From this experience as a sales representative, he then went into the specialty seed business at S & S Seeds as general manager for 10 years. He returned to CHS as a location manager before joining DLF Pickseed as a key account sales rep for the Seed Research of Oregon brand. Only a year later, he was promoted to a brand management role for Seed Research. Over the last 3 years, Billman has continued to show his dedication to DLF Pickseed USA. His role and responsibilities have expanded heavily into the export business.

Bill Dunn will serve as transition manager.

Dunn will manage and facilitate the transition in his new role. Over the next year, he will work closely with the sales team to ensure an exemplary transition of the key roles and duties within the Pro Turf Division.

Published by SeedWorld, July 13, 2020

 

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Chris McDowell: Starts seed business with her daughters

Chris McDowell’s long history in the grass seed industry has taught her and her two daughters that Oregon is fertile ground for more women in agriculture.

McDowell has been a part of the mid-Willamette Valley’s grass seed production operations for nearly 40 years, she said, while daughter Marissa Donahue transitioned from production into turf grass sales in 2008.

“We’d been working together long enough and she had been in the industry for a long time and had all this knowledge and relationships, which was essential,” Donahue said. “But we work together well, which can be considered a big advantage.”

In 2014, McDowell, Donahue and her other daughter, Mandi Mack, decided to toss the dice and start their own business, which they called Vista Seed Partners.

“We saw the need in the industry of a real customer-based seed company,” McDowell said. “The timing was right in 2014, so we just said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

Today, Vista markets high-performance grass seed varieties and blends for professional landscapes (Central Park in New York City is a client), sports turf, golf courses and sod applications. Turfgrass products include Bermudagrass, perennial ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass and others.

Forage products are also developed at Vista, including tall fescue and orchardgrass.

The three women co-owners title themselves as “sales” staff, though each has significant experience in the field.

Donahue has served on the board of the Oregon Grass Seed Advisory Council and is currently on the board of the Independent Turf and Ornamental Distributors Association.

Mack held a sales and marketing role for a large multinational turf grass company for more than a dozen years before Vista Seed Partners was formed. She commutes from Salem to Vista’s Shedd, Ore., headquarters.

McDowell is a turfgrass industry story by herself, though.

“Back when I was first doing seed sales in the early 1980s there were probably only three or four women doing what I was doing,” McDowell said. “It was kind of a Good Ole Boys Club for a long, long time.

“But things changed,” she said, “and I got involved in the Oregon Seed Trade Association, and I became the first woman president of the Oregon Seed Council.”

McDowell also has chaired the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program board and on the American Seed TradeTrade Association’s Lawn Seed Division.

“I think that there’s this misconception that women are in competition with one another,” Donahue said. “But in my experience, I’ve not felt that in this industry, where people are nothing but supportive.”

 

By GEOFF PARKS For the Capital Press Jul 2, 2020

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Consumer demand overwhelms vegetable seed producers

Jun 3, 2020

The panicked rush to buy vegetable seeds in the wake of this year’s coronavirus pandemic is something that farmer Frank Morton has seen before.

Previously, the surge in demand was spurred by the Great Recession over a decade ago, and before that, by fears of the Y2K glitch causing technological mayhem at the turn of the new millennium.

Worrying about widespread havoc tends to make humans prioritize basic biological imperatives, said Morton, who started his Wild Garden Seed company in 1994 near Philomath, Ore.

“When tensions are high and economic prospects are threatened, one of the first things people remember to buy — after toilet paper — is seeds,” he said. “There’s a certain victory garden mentality that’s taken hold. There’s a return to the garden.”

Vegetable seed sales were already strong during the typical peak sales season in February, which Morton attributes to a “hangover from the impeachment trials,” as political turmoil also spurs interest in self-sufficiency.

Once sales began taper off before the spring planting season, however, a national emergency related to the coronavirus was declared, he said.

“All the sudden, the orders went through the roof,” Morton said. “It shot back up the same as the peak or more.”

Morton estimates his sales this spring were three times what they’d normally be, which is akin to having “two selling seasons in one year.”

“For companies like mine, it was the sunny side of the coronavirus,” he said.

The phenomenon of “cocooning at home,” avoiding travel and saving money by growing food will probably endure at least as long as the economic turbulence in the U.S., said Tom Johns, president of the Territorial Seed Co. in Cottage Grove, Ore., which grows seed and contracts with farmers.

“It’s going to take a longer time to get out of it than it took to get into it,” Johns said, adding that his company projects two years of increased sales, though not the “panic buying” seen in 2020.

“I think we’re going to have a more steady flow of business, but business will be more robust,” he said.

In the past three months, seed wholesalers have shipped 25-35% more seed than they would on average, resulting in shortages of certain popular varieties, said John Wahlert, co-owner of Wild West Seeds in Albany, Ore., which contracts with farmers and sells in bulk to seed retailers.

“Everything that can go wrong has gone wrong, and they’re looking out for their own. They don’t realize that one packet or two packets would be enough for their whole family,” he said. “The garden seed industry does its best on the worst of days.”

An increase in vegetable seed production is likely to “refill the coffers” for next year, though the prices to growers will depend on what happens in global markets, he said. “To move the seed, I’ve got to be competitive.”

For his part, Wahlert hopes that wholesale buyers will have an incentive to offer farmers higher prices to grow vegetable seeds.

“If I don’t have good growers, I’m not in business,” he said.

Siskiyou Seeds, which grows its own seeds in Williams, Ore., and contracts with other farms, has seen its sales quadruple so far in 2020, said Don Tipping, the company’s founder.

“What was a multiple-year supply is getting sold out in one year,” Tipping said.

Even after doubling the employment level at his company by hiring new workers and extending hours for others, Siskiyou Seeds was unable to keep up with demand and was forced to suspend new orders for five days in April.

Tipping and other seed sellers say they’re not complaining about getting slammed with demand, especially when so many are suffering financially.

“It’s a huge blessing to be busy at a time people are unemployed,” he said.

Tipping said the coronavirus pandemic has caused people to want “more agency over their food supply,” and has probably inspired “hundreds of thousands if not millions of new gardens this year.”

“We were exposed to a lot of new customers who will probably continue to be customers,” he said.

Even so, the boom in demand has overwhelmed the current capacity at Siskiyou Seeds, which will likely need to contract with more growers and expand purchases from existing ones, he said.

Inventories of certain vegetable cultivars were depleted, so Siskiyou Seeds may have to temporarily pare back its usual seed offerings from 700 varieties to 550 varieties, he said.

Most of the demand spike experienced by High Mowing Organic Seeds, a Vermont-based company that contracts with about 40 Northwest farmers, was from home gardeners, though farmers also increased their seed purchases as an “emotional insurance policy,” said Tom Stearns, the company’s founder.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen, and seed lasts,” he said.

Due to the limited number of organic seed producers in the Northwest, Stearns said he’s most likely to expand purchases from existing farmers. To keep up with demand, he’s already increased contracted volumes of seed grown in 2020 by 35-50%, depending on variety.

“If there is a similar surge next year, we will be better prepared,” Stearns said.

Originally published in the Capital Press.

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Container service returning to Portland, Oregon

SM Line will start calling the Port of Portland’s Terminal 6 on a weekly basis in January.

Farmers and other shippers in Oregon got some good news this week when the South Korea-based container carrier SM Line announced it will bring weekly container shipping service back to Portland early next year.

The service “will create more jobs for Oregonians and more opportunities for local companies to grow as they market Oregon products overseas,” Gov. Kate Brown said. “Oregon sent $1.7 billion in exports to South Korea last year.”

She said that during a recent trade mission to South Korea, “we met with SM Line executives and made the case for continuing connections with our trading partners in Asia. I’m delighted they made the decision to come to Portland.”

Portland has been without direct container service since 2017.

“We are thrilled to welcome SM Line and give regional shippers more options and better connect Oregon businesses to global markets,” said Curtis Robinhold, executive director at the Port of Portland. “This service will help reduce the number of trucks on the road and decrease regional environmental impacts of freight movement.”

SM Line’s Pacific Northwest Service will start including a Portland call, with the ship leaving the port of Ningbo in China, on Dec. 22, 2019. The service uses six vessels with capacity of 4,300 to 4,500 TEUs.

With the addition of Portland, the full port rotation for the service will be Yantian, China; Ningbo; Shanghai; Busan, South Korea; Vancouver, British Columbia; Seattle; Portland; Busan; Kwangyang, South Korea; and Yantian. The first ship is expected to arrive in Portland in January 2020.

“The re-establishment of ocean container service  to Asia from the Columbia River is long awaited and vital for agriculture and forest products exports,” said Peter Friedmann, executive director of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition. “The benefits will extend not only to those who source in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, but also those who approach the West Coast gateway ports from further east by train.

“While the majority of agriculture and forest products exports will continue to move through the Puget Sound marine terminals in Tacoma and Seattle, any new Columbia River service, even at much smaller volumes, will provide an alternative to the costly truck dray up the congested interstate. It will make hours of service less costly for truckers bringing product from Oregon sources. This will also provide an opportunity for the ILWU Local which will be working these ships, to demonstrate their willingness and ability to match or hopefully exceed productivity elsewhere on the West Coast,” Friedmann added.

Terminal 6 was the scene of a protracted labor dispute among the terminal operator, the U.S. subsidiary of International Container Terminal Services Inc., ICTSI Oregon, which operated the terminal from 2011 and 2017, and the union representing longshoremen at the terminal, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

As productivity at the terminal plummeted, shipping lines stopped calling Portland, and the port eventually ended its lease with ICTSI Oregon.

Among the carriers that formerly called Terminal 6 were Hapag-Lloyd, Hamburg-Sud and Westwood. Korea’s Hanjin had also called the terminal prior to becoming insolvent in 2016.

Earlier this month, a federal jury awarded $93.6 million to ICTSI Oregon after finding ILWU members engaged in illegal work practices such as work slowdowns and stoppages.

The union contended ICTSI’s closure at Terminal 6 was caused by “ICTSI’s own mismanagement, the constraints of the Columbia River regarding oceangoing shipping and the financial troubles faced by the ocean carriers themselves that were unrelated to any actions taken by the ILWU or Local 8.”

After ICTSI left, the Port of Portland and BNSF Railway started using Terminal 6 as an inland rail intermodal terminal, shuttling containers to and from container terminals at the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma, which are operate together as the Northwest Seaport Alliance. As a multipurpose facility, Terminal 6 is also used to load and discharge automobiles as well as breakbulk and project cargo.

Ken O’Hollaren, marine marketing director at the Port of Portland, said the intermodal rail service to Seattle and Tacoma — which is offered by Hyundai Merchant Marine, COSCO Shipping, and CMA CGM and its APL subsidiary — will continue.

O’Hollaren said the size of the ships deployed by SM Line means they will have no problems navigating the 43-foot channel along the Columbia River or being worked at Terminal 6.

He also said the Port of Portland would encourage the revival of container on barge service along the Columbia River. In the past, those services had moved containers from as far inland as Lewiston, Idaho.

“We look forward to this new service in Portland, which will expand our trans-Pacific service coverage and better connect SM Line with customers in the region,” said Kee Hoon Park, CEO of SM Line, in a statement.

SM Line launched in 2017 and also operates a service between China, Korea and the Port of Long Beach.

Originally published by American Shipper

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Grass seed moves to #4 in Oregon commodities

Greenhouse, nursery products top Oregon’s ag products

Followed by cattle and calves, hay and grass seed

SALEM, Ore. – Greenhouse and nursery products remain Oregon’s leading agricultural commodity, with an annual value of nearly $1 billion, based on data collected by the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Sources include USDA National agricultural Statistic Service (NASS), Oregon State University, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Oregon Wine Board. This is an increase for Oregon’s greenhouse and nursery industry up from $94.7 million last year. Oregon is one of the top three nursery production states in the U.S.

Continue reading Grass seed moves to #4 in Oregon commodities

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Teacher and Former OSA Scholarship Recipient receives state recognition for AG Science Program

OSA congratulates Jaimee Brentano and her colleague on this remarkable achievement. Jaimee was an OSA scholarship award winner in 2013 and 2014.


(Photo courtesy of Bend-La Pine Schools Press Release)

Mountain View High School’s agriculture science program named best in Oregon


Bend Bulletin Staff

The agricultural sciences and technology program at Mountain View High School was named the best secondary agricultural education program in the state by the Oregon Agriculture Teacher’s Association in June.

The program, led by teachers Jaimee Brentano and Jeff Papke, teaches students about animal science, plant science, metals and fabrication, natural resources, agriculture leadership and more, according to a Bend-La Pine Schools press release. About 230 students enroll in Mountain View’s agricultural science classes each year.

Students in the program recently calculated a Water Quality Index for Tumalo Creek, created nesting tubes for ducks in the Deschutes River and practiced blood draws and injections on simulation animals, the release stated.

“We are excited to earn this honor and highlight how we are building the program and striving to do better each year,” Brentano said in the press release.

Read the article in the Bend Bulletin HERE>>>
Read the Press Release for the Bend-La Pine Schools HERE>>>