Native seed business takes root

Craig Edminster started Pacific NW Natives in 1996. Native Seeds

Craig Edminster with his daughters Michele Santoyo, left, and Sarah Stutzman, right. Although Michele and Sarah helped in the fields growing up, it was only in the past couple of years that they decided to work full-time for the company.

ALBANY, Ore.- Sarah Stutzman and Michele Santoyo didn’t realize how hard their dad, Craig Edminster, worked until they joined him at Pacific NW Natives a few years ago.

You have to be a glutton for punishment, Stutzman said about their native seed production enterprise. My dad works his a– off, always has.

Edminster started Pacific NW Natives in 1996 after working as a research scientist for a cooperative of Western farmers.

It was there that Edminsters interest in native plant species began.

Natives are quite unique. I didn’t switch 100 percent; I needed a day job, he said. The native seed business was strong east of the Cascades because it was funded by (Bureau of Land Management) money. But I saw it was a growth market with not a lot of competitors.

The Albany, Ore., business struggled for the first couple of years, and most of the seed was taken to the dump, he said. However, Edminster continued to contract with organizations such as the Calapooia Watershed Council, FFA and 4-H. Eventually they also contracted with the BLM for a program based on indefinite delivery and indefinite quantity, which funded Edminster because his seeds were good for forest restoration.

Thats what really put us on the map. Private dollars aren’t going to make this industry grow over a couple of years; public dollars are the way to get this thing going, Edminster said.

The biggest learning curve, Edminster said, was not knowing when to cut the grass, how to fertilize it, and if it needed irrigation or required a combine.

Every population is different; even in the same gene of species, he said.

Stutzman and Santoyo said it was the same with cleaning the seed. As children, they cleaned each seed by hand because the company couldn’t afford a seed cleaner.

We had a 50-pound bag of dirty seed and a tweezer to pinch the seed out onto white paper, Stutzman said.

Edminster estimates that no more than 30 or 50 growers have ever tried local natives in their production fields because of the risk of not making money.

When I was in the field it was all worked by hand with species that were too delicate to be put through the combine. We had to have a group of people going down aisles with scissors or taking seed off with their hands, Stutzman said.

Its very time-consuming, and makes it more expensive and difficult to handle. People want them, but they don’t want to invest that time and effort, she said.

Stutzman said shes vacuumed seeds off the ground to save them. Santoyo added that those few seeds were worth $30.

Most of what we do is as difficult as you can get, Edminster said.

Stutzman and Santoyo knew that their father worked a lot, but they didn’t realize how hard until they committed to the company.

Its constant and doesn’t stop. When you participate in it, you see how hard it is, Stutzman said. I worked in the field with my now husband, and harvesting stuff is really difficult. You’re laying it out on tarps and drying it, then pitchforking it into a thrasher and then to the seed cleaner. It’s much more difficult than commercial grasses.

Although Edminster joked about retiring as soon as he can, his daughters say they don’t see that happening.

Read the article in The Capitol Press here.

Lebanon resident wins seed award

The Oregon Seed Association’s Scholarship Committee recognized two talented young women as recipients of the OSA Memorial Scholarship Award during its 2017 Summer Convention, held in June, at the Riverhouse on the Deschutes in Bend.

Awards to Nicole Cavill and Brenda Birrueta were presented at their respective high school awards ceremonies in May, and recognized by OSA membership.

Brenda Birrueta is from Lebanon, and is the daughter of Celestino and Carmen Birrueta, both longtime employees of Barenbrug USA in Tangent. Brenda just finished her sophomore year of studies at Oregon State University, majoring in Business Administration with a minor in Spanish. With a career focus in Human Resources, she is hoping to find an internship this summer working for a local company in Business Management.

OSA established its Memorial Scholarship award to honor the memories of leaders of the seed industry, and to recognize their commitment and service to the Oregon Seed Association. The Memorial Scholarship is awarded each year to a student that is the child or grandchild of a member employee and is seeking higher education. Students are selected based on academic achievement, as well as extracurricular and community involvement.

Read the article in the Lebanon Express here.

Albany Democrat Herald-At Our Best

at our best

OSU students win fellowships

The Oregon Seed Association Scholarship Committee recognized two Oregon State University as recipients of the Kent Wiley Jr. Fellowship during its mid-winter meeting, held Jan. 10 at the Salem Convention Center.

At the time of the award, Tara Bergland was a first-year graduate student researching the efficacy of plant growth regulator mixtures on seed yield and yield components in tall fescue. She has volunteered at the OSU Dairy Barn, and has done trail maintenance for Corvallis parks. In 2013, while traveling in Tanzania, she was able to see different sides of agriculture, including coffee and sugar cane farms.

Also receiving an award was Lucas Bobadilla. Bobadilla grew up in Brazil on his grandfather’s farm, which shaped his love of agriculture and his desire to improve practices. At the time of the award, he was a first-year graduate student studying the frequency and distribution of Glyphosate-resistant populations of annual ryegrass. In 2015, he spent a year as a research assistant in the weed science lab at University of California, Davis. He previously worked as an intern studying the control of the weed Elesine indica in sugar cane in Brazil. He is a twice-published co-author of research papers.

Read the article in the Albany Democrat-herald here

Ports hail longshore contract extension

The Pacific Maritime Association says it has reached a three-year contract extension with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union hopefully preventing any work slowdowns like one three years ago that damaged agricultural and non-agricultural exports and the U.S. economy.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association have agreed to a three-year extension of their current contract, which was due to expire in 2019.

PMA President James McKenna announced the extension July 28, saying PMA proposed a contract extension earlier in the year with the intent to create long term certainty for West Coast ports and all stakeholders. The PMA negotiates labor agreements on behalf of port operators.

Early voting returns show strong ILWU support for our proposal, which would ensure labor stability through 2022. This historic agreement will be great news for the maritime industry, as well as our customers, workers, port communities and the U.S. economy, McKenna said in a released statement.

The extension is subject to final confirmation by the ILWU and is expected next week, he said. It covers workers at all 29 West Coast container ports.

Agricultural exporters are greatly relieved that we have now removed one of the primary motivations for the West Coast meltdown of a few years ago, Peter Friedmann, executive director of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition in Washington, D.C., told Capital Press.

Inability of the ILWU and PMA to reach a new contract three years ago led to a months-long union work slowdown that cost farmers, manufacturers and retailers across the U.S. hundreds of millions of dollars in losses because they could not get exported or imported goods to market.

Last November, U.S. Reps. Dave Reichert and Dan Newhouse, both R-Wash., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., renewed their plea for the PMA and ILWU to work together to avoid another slowdown.

They said the 2014-2015 disruption cost the U.S. economy an estimated $7 billion. Growers dumped spoiled produce, manufacturers were delayed in getting parts and retailers had empty shelves, the representatives wrote in a letter to PMA and ILWU.

Read the full story in the Capitol Press here.