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.

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

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.

Read more

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>>> 

Weaver Seed Receives 2019 Leadership Award

Weaver Seed of Oregon was chosen to receive the 2019 Leadership Award at the Celebrate Trade event in Portland. The Celebrate Trade event is the “Oregon International Business Awards and Consular Corps Scholarship Gala” held during Oregon’s World Trade Week to help build the next generation of leaders.

See this video clip on the work done by Gary and Andy Weaver with the Albany Boys and Girls Club.

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Northwest agriculture: You’re not in Kansas

By Brad Carlson, Capital Press
May 16, 2019

A drive through Oregon’s Willamette Valley will quickly convince any Midwesterner that agriculture in the Pacific Northwest is far different from the Corn Belt.

Rows of hazelnut trees line up next to fields of Christmas trees, and grass seed fields are surrounded by blueberries — more than 200 different crops are grown in the sprawling valley that stretches 110 miles between Eugene and Portland in Western Oregon.

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Harper: When the farm calls you home

By Tiffany Harper in the Register-Guard, February 27, 2019

Leaving the family farm for more stable and lucrative opportunities is nothing new.

As a young farmer, I knew that many people leave the farm to find more promising jobs, but I also had other reasons to question my future in agriculture. Not only was I female, I was a biracial female who did not fit the stereotype of a “traditional farmer.”

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Wild West Seed sees flower interest rising

Wild West Seed Inc. has a quiet but substantial presence in southwest Idaho, where it grows some of its flower seeds and most of its vegetable seed. The Treasure Valley is far and away our biggest production region by acres,” Business Development Manager Matt Hilbert said. “On the vegetable side, most is grown in the Treasure Valley.”

The 20-year-old Wild West Seed, a family-owned company based in Albany, Ore., produces open-pollinated flower, vegetable and herb seed, and wildflower mixes for other seed companies that sell primarily to home gardeners. With 10 full-time employees, it does business nationally and to an extent internationally — competing with big-name, merger-enlarged agribusinesses, among others.

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OSU names new dean for College of Ag

Alan Sams has been named dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at Oregon State University.

Alan Sams has been named dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at Oregon State University.

A new dean is coming to the Oregon State University College of Agricultural Sciences.The university on Tuesday named Alan Sams to lead the college, succeeding Dan Arp, who will retire at the end of August.

Sams has spent the last nine years as executive associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M University, managing academic programs, personnel and budgeting for one of the largest agricultural colleges in the country, with 350 faculty, 7,800 students and a budget of more than $69 million.

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Automation paves the way for West Coast Companies in Salem

By GEORGE PLAVEN
Capital Press

SALEM, Ore. — Andrew Burleigh knows the concern is there, that robots could soon replace many human workers in agriculture and food processing, but he insists that isn’t the case.

Automated systems are not replacing people, Burleigh said, but redefining what they do. For example, instead of hoisting 50-pound bags of product and loading them onto pallets by hand, a machine can now do the heavy lifting while employees transition to more favorable, less physical jobs.

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