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Farm crops 1979

Dave Amoth, standing, and Mike Chilton discuss the future of mid-valley farm crops.

NOTE: The following article originally ran in "The Future: 1999????," a special section in the Friday, March 30, 1979 edition of the Albany Democrat-Herald.

SALEM — Americans may see lots of changes in agriculture in the next decade, but the Willamette Valley still will be a seed-production capital, according to Dave Amoth.

The principle difference will be in the types of seeds.

Amoth is manager of Agriculture Service Corp. As with a dozen other companies stretching from Albany to Halsey, Amoth's firm currently deals primarily with lawn and forage grass seeds.

But Amoth's firm already is working closely with Oregon State University researchers on potential new crops for the Willamette Valley's seed production lands.

"It is interesting to speculate," Amoth admitted. "Every piece of ground in this valley can be better utilized; I really feel that. Needs change. Tobacco was grown in the valley a century ago, because of the need then."

In the future he sees the Willamette Valley farmers taking an increasing role in production of seed for crops to be planted in developing nations of the world. They may be crops unheard of in Oregon now.

"Consider the mangel, for instance."

The WHAT?

Amoth explained that mangels are a member of the beet family and are widely used in Europe for cattle feed. This nation, with so much open land, has not been under pressure to grow forage. But all members of the beet family do well do well at seed production in the mid-valley. That is why so much sugar beet is grown for seed here.

So as developing nations need cattle feed, they may turn to the mid-valley for seed from which to grow their mangels.

Or for more sugar beet seed or seed for table beets. Brussels sprouts, cabbages, chard, kale, kohlrabi, lettuces, mustards, onions, parsnips, parsley, peas, radishes, spinach and a whole range of vine plants such as cucumbers, squash and pumpkins.

The list is endless, Amoth said.

Right now his firm's researchers are studying which flower plants are most suitable for valley seed production.

The weather is the key to it all.

Amoth is convinced that nowhere else in the world can match the Willamette Valley and sections of western Washington for seed production.

The climate is cold enough to set the seed but not so cold as to destroy the plant during the winter, and the summer season is dry enough to allow field drying between the wind-rowing and the actual harvest.

Initially, there is enough well-drained land to meet the need for new crop seeds.

"We aren't talking about thousands of acres, like ryegrass," explained Ag Service's vegetable seed specialist, Mike Chilton. "Grass seed requires large acreage but specialty seed requires more intense management. The cost will be more, but there is the potential for higher return. Off one acre of cabbage we can harvest 1,000 pounds of seed and that's enough to plant 3,000 acres."

Because of the small acreages and high production costs, neither Amoth or Chilton expect specialty-seed production to replace wheat and grass seed production in terms of acreage.

They do see farmers improving their ground so that specialty seed crops can be grown on more acres.

"We will be raising grass seed in the year 2000, that I will guarantee," Amoth said. "The problem with the grass seed industry is that it has been plagued by the ability to overproduce. So I foresee more successful grass-seed farmers diversifying because of the economics."

More ground is being limed and drainage tile installed. Irrigation systems are being developed. The farmer will spend the money to improve his better ground so that he can raise a few acres of specialty-seed crops.

Despite the fact grass-seed farmers say there isn't another crop suitable for the thousands of acres of wet "whitelands" south of Albany. "It is not inconceivable to me at all to see vegetable-seed production on that ground in 20 years," Amoth said.

Amoth said he can remember when some of the land north of Salem which now is in cannery vegetarian production had as poor a crop potential as the Halsey area soils.

Lime, drainage, continued plant research, irrigation and economics made the difference.

Chilton said expansion of specialty-seed production in the coming decade will be "a marketing matter, not a production one. For instance, China has about all the same climatic conditions as the United States. We have the technology. So if we find varieties of crops which have appeal to the Chinese, we may grow the seed here for them to grow the crop. There are interesting possibilities."

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