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.”

Vertical Integration Key to Success at Mountain View Seeds

Born out of a co-op in the heart of the Mid-Willamette Valley, Mountain View Seeds has emerged as a top player in the global grass seed market, providing high-quality turfgrass, forage, and cover crops with a focus on environmental sustainability.


Today, the company contracts with more than 200 growers across the Pacific Northwest and sells anywhere from 60-80 million pounds of seed every year. Species include cool-season grasses like kentucky bluegrass, fescue, ryegrass, bentgrass, Bermuda, wildflowers, legumes, brassicas and much more used in lawns, parks, landscaped areas, golf courses, sports fields, and sod farms around the world.


Being vertically integrated also allows Mountain View Seeds to have a hand in every step of the process — from being involved in developing varieties, seed processing, and shipping. This offers more guidance and quality assurance from start to finish. Tony Ramirez, accounts manager for the company, said this is what gives Mountain View Seeds a strong foundation.


It just makes our turnaround time quicker and more efficient,” Ramirez said. “We’re able to work closely with our growers to ensure quality and performance standards are met. With our highly efficient automated seed blenders, we are able to ship products in a timely manner”.



Rooted in Oregon


Mountain View Seeds is part of Pratum Co-op, established in 1946 by a group of local farmers cultivating premium grass seed east of Salem. In 1998, Troy Kuenzi and Todd Bond started Mountain View Seeds to handle the rising demand for Pratum’s private varieties.


Though the scope of the business is now global, Ramirez said the company remains dedicated to serving Oregon agriculture. Mountain View Seeds is a supporter of several industry groups, including the Oregon Seed Growers League, Tall Fescue Commission, Fine Fescue Commission, and Annual Ryegrass Growers Association. The company also donates to the annual Oregon Ag Fest, as well as local FFA chapters.


As members of the Oregon Seed Association, Ramirez said the company benefits by being able to network and exchange insights that strengthens the entire seed industry.


“We’re all competitors in the room, but we have common goals,” he said. “It’s a really good place to gain knowledge of what’s happening, especially in a diverse industry such as ours. There are so many different things that go on.”



Fighting for Grass


One of the biggest challenges facing the seed industry, Ramirez said, is fighting against the perception that grass lawns are bad for the environment. In addition to grass’ ability to sequester carbon, improve air quality, and prevent erosion, Mountain View Seeds is constantly working to develop more sustainable varieties that use less water, fertilizer, and pesticides while maintaining quality.


To do this, Ramirez said the company utilizes the Alliance for Low Input Sustainable Turf (ALIST), multiple universities, and other research partners.


“The biggest thing is we do a lot of research and trials to figure out which varieties can have reduced inputs, more heat tolerance, and decreased water use,” Ramirez said. “A lot of it ties into the environment, but it’s also about cost savings in a way where you have fewer inputs, and you’re also doing better by the Earth.”

Smith Seed Services Offers Full Spectrum of Industry Tools

A lot goes into making Oregon’s seed industry renowned worldwide. From breeding quality genetics to seed coating, cleaning, and packaging, producers rely on a bevy of services to help them increase productivity and satisfy customers around the globe.


For more than 60 years, Smith Seed Services has been providing the tools that seed growers and distributors need to prosper. What started as a small seed cleaning operation working out of a converted dairy barn has since expanded to include specially formulated seed coating, blending, storage, distribution, and marketing. The company also offers its own exclusive lineup of high-performing turfgrass, forage, and cover crop seeds.


“With a commitment to innovation and customer satisfaction, Smith Seed Services has grown to over 300 team members with a coating and packaging capacity of over 15 million pounds per month, serving clients globally and continuing to thrive as a privately held, family-oriented business,” said Dustin Withee, a spokesperson for the company.


Seeds of success


Headquartered in Halsey, Smith Seed Services was founded in 1956 by George Smith. Originally a seed cleaning business serving Willamette Valley farmers, the company has gradually expanded its reach and added to its repertoire of services and products.


One of its biggest accomplishments came in 2008 with the completion of a new multi-million dollar seed coating facility. A second coating and retail packaging facility was also built in Lamar, Missouri in 2018.


Throughout its various departments, Withee said Smith Seed Services employs a robust and experienced team.


“We take pride in the fact that most of them have been here for five years or longer, including several who have worked here for 15-30 years,” Withee said. “We have a loyal, long-term, and stable team that has invested in and is integral to the success of our business.”

Engaged with OSA


As a key player in the seed industry, Withee said Smith Seed Services is constantly pursuing market access while navigating ever-changing regulations. Being a member of the Oregon Seed Association allows the company to access information and ensure they have a seat at the table when discussing industry issues.


“As a company alone, our voice is small, but as we work collectively with the larger industry, we can all affect change,” Withee said. “While we may not directly influence policy in every case, we work to find solutions and ways to work within the regulatory framework we are given.”


Smith Seed Services also supports causes and organizations that benefit all of Oregon agriculture. These include Oregon Ag Fest, the Oregon Seed Growers League, Oregon Annual Ryegrass Growers Association, and the local Central Linn FFA Chapter. In addition, Withee said the company provides logistical and regulatory support for mission groups sending relief containers to areas afflicted by poverty and armed conflict around the world.


“Part of our ethos is encouraging and supporting employees with their involvement in community organizations and charities,” Withee said.

Pure Seed Cultivates Varieties for the World

Developing new grass seed varieties is no easy feat for Crystal Rose-Fricker and her team at Pure Seed. The process usually takes a decade or longer of careful breeding, cultivating the right mix of genetic traits that can withstand drought, diseases, and other environmental pressures while also maximizing yield for growers.


“Breeding is always a numbers game,” Rose-Fricker said. “For every variety that we license, we probably throw away at least 10 because they’re not good enough.”


It is that level of detail that has established Pure Seed as a top player in the seed industry. The company’s products can be found all over the world, from the lawn and garden section at Lowe’s Home Improvement stores to major sporting events like the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar and the 2023 Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in Rome.


A family business


Pure Seed was founded by Rose-Fricker’s father, Bill Rose, in 1972 as a marketing and wholesale supplier of warm- and cool-season turfgrass and forages. Two years later, Rose started Pure Seed Testing to cultivate new varieties at its 175-acre research farm in Canby, and a second 25-acre research farm in Rolesville, N.C. Pure Seed Testing will celebrate its 50th anniversary in June.


Rose-Fricker is now president of Pure Seed and Pure Seed Testing, carrying on the family business. The companies employ about 80 people depending on the season, she said, including her own kids, McKayla Fricker-Smucker and Austin Fricker.


“Between our companies, we’re almost 50% women, which is unusual for an agricultural company,” Rose-Fricker said.


Strengthening the industry


Being part of the Oregon Seed Association gives members the chance to come together and strengthen their industry, Rose-Fricker said. Even though they are technically competitors, she said they are stronger as a group when it comes to advocating for legislation and support that helps everyone along the supply chain.

“We’re all working together to keep this industry strong and valid,” she said. “We can’t stick our heads in the sand and just farm anymore. We have to get involved.”


That means making sure they tell the industry’s story, and explaining how companies like Pure Seed are cultivating better seed varieties that give all the benefits of natural grass while being more environmentally friendly — requiring less water and chemical inputs.


“People want to have a beautiful green landscape, but they don’t want to feel guilty about it,” Rose-Fricker said.


The next generation


Pure Seed also volunteers with Oregon Aglink’s Adopt-A-Farmer program, which pairs farmers with middle school classrooms for field trips and agricultural-themed lessons. This year, Rose-Fricker said the farm in Canby will welcome 200 kids from Sellwood Middle School in Portland.


For some kids, it might be the first time they’ve ever been on a farm or seen a tractor, Rose-Fricker said. The program aims to show them that they could consider jobs in agriculture, no matter what they’re interested in doing.


“It’s really needed to give kids that experience,” she said. “Who knows what they’ll end up being in the future?”

Lena Prine Joins OSA Administrative Team

Lena Prine

Pac/West Lobby Group is expanding its administrative team with the addition of Lena Prine as assistant to Oregon Seed Association Executive Director Ryan Tribbett. Prine and Tribbett will be working together to help grow OSA’s membership and influence statewide.

“Oregon is the grass seed capital of the world, driving more than $1 billion in economic activity annually,” Prine said. “We need to make sure that our companies have a strong voice in Salem, advocating for the policies and resources they need to keep the industry strong and competitive in global markets.”

Growing up in Portland, Prine first took an interest in agricultural issues as a legislative assistant for former state Rep. Raquel Moore-Green (R-Salem), who served on the House Energy and Environment Committee. She later participated in the nonprofit Resource Education & Agricultural Leadership Program, commonly known as REAL Oregon. The program aims to increase knowledge and advocacy for Oregon agriculture.

Each class spends five months touring around different regions of the state, learning about the myriad of agricultural commodities they produce and what unique issues farmers, ranchers, foresters, and fishers face.

“I learned about the importance and significance of the natural resources economy in ways I didn’t previously understand,” Prine said. “I feel like my time in the program furthered my understanding of who the true caretakers of the land really are.”

In addition to her behind-the-scenes understanding of the Oregon Legislature, Prine has also spent the last year working closely with local companies as director of business advocacy for the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce. Prine said she hopes to use her experience in both business and politics to amplify OSA’s success.

“We sometimes make it hard for our natural resources producers, including seed companies, to do their job in this state,” Prine said. “My passion is really easing the regulatory environment so farmers can farm, fishers can fish, and foresters can forest.”