Meet the 2024 OSA Memorial Scholarship Winners!

The Oregon Seed Association has awarded its 2024 Memorial Scholarship to six students who have demonstrated excellence in both the classroom and in their communities.

Abigail Hauke, Brandon Withers, Sofia Vachter, John Cavill, Alayna Grunerud, and Ethan Hedgpeth will each receive $1,500 from OSA to further their education. They were selected based on several criteria including academic history, involvement in extracurricular activities, and community service.

“We had a tremendous pool of applicants, and each was more than deserving of this award,” said Chase Cochran, OSA Scholarship Committee Chair.”Everyone at OSA offers our congratulations to this year’s winners. The future is incredibly bright for our industry and beyond.”

Learn more about this year’s winners by reading their bios below!

Abigail Hauke

Abigail graduated this year from Harrisburg High School with a 3.8 grade point average. She plans to enroll this fall in the Aviation Program at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Mont., in hopes of one day becoming an airline pilot. “This has been my dream ever since my first time flying,” she said. Over the last five summers, Abigail has worked as a combine driver for local farms in Linn County. In high school, she was Senior Class President and Vice President of the local National Honor Society chapter. Jamie Tatum, a teacher in the Harrisburg School District, described Abigail as a “natural leader,” adding that, “Although undoubtedly Abby will go on to be extremely successful in her chosen endeavors, I am most proud of her for her humanity and heart to support others while her actions make our world a better place, each and every day.”

Brandon Withers

Brandon is no stranger to Oregon agriculture. He has spent the last four years working directly with local farms, including two summers at Doerfler Farms, two years at Pratum Co-op, and one fall season at AgriSeed Testing. “These opportunities have given me experience in production, harvesting, research, cleaning, packaging, field scouting, precision ag (with drones), soil, tissue, seed sampling, and laboratory quality testing,” he said. “Based on these experiences, I have developed a strong passion for agriculture and am planning a career as a Crop Advisor.” During COVID, Brandon started his own woodworking business where he made and donated American flags. He completed his Associate Degree and Crop Health Certificate at Chemeketa Community College in June, and will attend Oregon State University to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Crop and Soil Science. His mother, Karen Withers, is the owner of AgCultured Consulting.

Sofia Vachter

Sofia is a freshman at Oregon State University as a dual-enrolled student with Linn-Benton Community College. She plans to earn her degree in business administration, with a minor in marketing. A graduate of North Marion High School, Vachter participated in the Future Business Leaders of America, National Honor Society, and was a varsity four-sport athlete in track and field, swimming, softball, and soccer. She has previously worked as a farmhand, and her father, Craig Vachter, works at Marion Ag Services. “As I have gotten older, I am very grateful that I started working when I did because it taught me determination, discipline, and developed my strong work ethic,” she said.

John Cavill

John is currently a student at Montana State University-Northern where he is pursuing degrees in Diesel Technology, Agricultural Mechanics, and an academic certificate in Welding Technology. His ultimate goal is to one day run a farm or ranch of his own. “Agriculture has always impacted my life,” he said. “I got my first farm job at 14 years old … I am extremely proud of my work ethic, and I have put many long hours into getting where I am today and closer to one of my life goals.” John comes from Lebanon, and his mother, Laura, has spent nearly 40 years working for DLF USA. He is also a dedicated member of his church, leading Sunday School classes and assisting with middle school youth groups.

Alayna Grunerud

Alayna graduated from East Linn Christian Academy in 2023, where she earned a 4.0 grade point average. She is now attending Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science with an emphasis in Sports Performance. She also intends to pursue a master’s degree in Athletic Training. “I have suffered many season-ending injuries in my sports career,” she said. “But it wasn’t until I tore my ACL during my senior of year of high school that I knew athletic training was the career path I wanted to pursue.” Alayna grew up in Brownsville. Her parents, Eric and Nicci Grunerud, both work for Smith Seed Services.

Ethan Hedgpeth

Ethan is currently a senior attending Tri-Cities Prep Catholic High School in Pasco, Wash., where he has played both baseball and football while maintaining a 3.993 grade point average and finishing 130 hours of community service. After graduation, he plans to pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering from either Montana State University or the University of Idaho in hopes of one day owning his own engineering firm. His father, Paul Hedgpeth, works at Columbia River Seed and together they have spent weekends spreading grass seed and fertilizer on the school’s baseball and softball fields, as well as the lawns at their church. Heather Axel, a history teacher and Dean of Academics at Tri-Cities Prep Catholic High School, said Ethan is “no stranger to hard work” and is a “driven, dedicated, and strong young man.”

Ampac Seed Co. Provides ‘One-Stop Shop’ for Customers

For Joe McAlhany Jr., there’s never a dull moment working in the seed business.


“I love the fact that no two days are ever the same. No two years are ever the same,” said McAlhany, General Manager of Ampac Seed Co. “It’s always fun to see where your products end up, and you really build some good friendships in this business.”


Founded in 1978, Ampac — short for “American Pacific” — produces around 25 million pounds of seed annually, including turfgrass, forage, and cover crops. The company contracts with farmers in Oregon and Canada to grow the seed, which then gets shipped across the country and around the world.

McAlhany has spent more than 20 years working in the industry. His family was one of the primary owners of OreGro Seeds, based in Albany, before selling the company to Nutrien Ag Solutions in 2017. McAlhany joined Ampac in 2021, leading an experienced team of 15 employees.


Whether it’s a soccer field in Australia or a farmer’s field in Kentucky, McAlhany said Ampac strives to be a “one-stop shop” to fill every customer’s needs.


“That’s where we want to be as a seed company, because so many distributors on the other end are reluctant to carry inventory,” he said. “They want to be able to go to one place to buy what they need and then ship it out.”



A Growing Market

Ampac is one of the oldest grower-owned seed companies in the Willamette Valley, McAlhany said. It was originally started by four different growers, though all but one has since moved on, leaving Pugh Seed Farm as the last of the original owners still standing.


McAlhany said the company is “pretty much split 50-50” between turfgrass and forage production. The market for cover crops is especially fast-growing in the U.S., he said, because of their bevy of environmental benefits — everything from improving soil quality and reducing water runoff to sequestering carbon.


“Cover crops are one of those few things where farmers and environmentalists can come together, because there’s so many things they can do for our soil and watersheds,” McAlhany said. “It’s something that we have a passion for, and it’s really just a unique market.”


In some cases, McAlhany said farmers who plant cover crops over a period of years can actually start seeing an increase in their bottom line. According to a USDA survey, corn yields went up 3.1% and soybean yields rose 4.3% after planting cover crops. Naturally healthier soils also mean farmers spend less money on chemical fertilizer, McAlhany said.



Uniting For Solutions


Looking ahead, McAlhany said water is likely to be the biggest issue facing Ampac.


As some areas around the West encourage xeriscaping to save water amid drought, McAlhany said the idea of a lush, green lawn has become like a dirty word in these markets. He said Ampac is working closely with breeders to develop more drought-resistant turfgrass varieties that require less irrigation while providing all the same advantages.


“Then we trial those products in markets where water is the biggest issue. That way, we can see how they’ll be received and how they’re going to be used,” McAlhany said.


McAlhany, who also serves on the Board of Directors for the Oregon Seed Association, said membership in OSA allows companies like his to learn more about complex issues affecting the seed industry and unite for common solutions. One example, he said, is advocating for digital labeling, which he called “a massive game-changer” for the industry.


“We’re heading in a good direction,” McAlhany said. “We’re excited about the future.”