An estimated 50 farmers and six presenters were in the Hurricane Creek Grange Hall Nov. 13 for the Grass Seed Summit presented by The Nature Conservancy and Wallowa Resources. The purpose of the Summit was to learn if Wallowa County farmers might tap into the niche market of growing native grass seed primarily for state and federal buyers.
"We have the need (for native grass seed) and we cannot do it ourselves," said Wallowa-Whitman, Umatilla and Malheur National Forest geneticist Vicky Erickson who was the first speaker during the 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. program.
She suggested that the Forest Service could supply some five pounds of seed for an interested farmer to plant in a plot from about 1/2 acre to five acres in size. Erickson said in a brief interview after her presentation that a farmer could grow a 500 to 800 lb. yield crop and receive some $7 to $15 per pound for their efforts.
The other five speakers basically addressed everything from the history of the native grass seed industry to the many steps on how to gather, mill and certify the seed.
Brad Styner, General Manager of Grasslands West in Clarkston, Wash., addressed the history and prognosis of the native grass industry, followed by grower Jerry Benson of Benson Farms in Moses Lake, Wash., who addressed the benefits of native grass seeds for habitat enhancement and restoration.
Dave Matteson, a product of Union County who is a consultant in the grass seed industry, spoke briefly on the process of milling the native grass seed once it is harvested. He was followed on the agenda by Barry Schrumpf of the Oregon Seed Certification Service who said that it is not mandatory to certify seeds, but desirable. He explained the certification process which can go beyond seeds to include bulblets, fruits, nuts, pollen, tubers and rhizomes and be staged in an approved private warehouse.
Oregon State University Associate Professor Andy Huber concluded the program with his presentation called "Reestablishing Natives: How, Why and Horsepastures Views from a Private Preserve."
The value of reintroducing native grasses, said Erickson, is threefold. She said that native grasses are in decline and at risk, that there has been a philosophical shift toward native grasses in the hierarchy of the Forest Service and that "they work" in restoring habitat areas.
She said that native grass seeds are commonly planted by hand, by use of hydroseeders and often via helicopter following wildfires.