Demands increase vegetable seed crops

MOUNT VERNON – The popularity and convenience of prewashed bagged salad greens has made its production a $3 billion a year industry. It has also posed challenges for those who grow the seeds for salad greens, a significant industry in western Washington. The state is a leading producer nationally of spinach seed as well as other vegetable seed crops.

“The farmers who grow spinach for bagged salads prefer a strain that is short, which is harder to manage as a seed stock,” said Kirby Johnson, president of the Puget Seed Growers Association. “On the other hand, they’re willing to pay a premium price for the seed.”

The trend toward baby greens has increased the demand for high quality vegetable seed astronomically, according to Lindsy du Toit, Washington State University vegetable seed plant pathologist.

“The growers are planting spinach and other greens on a much more intensive level, planting as much as five to 10 times more seed per acre than traditional spinach,” she said. “It’s also a more short-term crop that is harvested within 30 to 40 days after planting. Then another crop is planted, so that’s driving up seed demand.”

Johnson and du Toit will be discussing the connection between WSU research and the state’s vegetable seed production at the “WSU at Benaroya Hall: In Concert with Communities” event as part of WSU Week in Seattle. The event, which will be held the evening of Sept. 6 at Seattle’s Benaroya Hall, will showcase the connections between WSU research and extension programs and communities and industries across the state.

According to Johnson, controlling weeds and plant diseases are the two biggest challenges for the state’s vegetable seed growers. He credits du Toit with solving a problem that was particularly vexing for the state’s spinach seed growers.

“We were spending a lot of money treating for a fungus that we thought was Cladosporium and not getting results,” Johnson said. “Lindsey determined that it was a different fungus, Stemphylium. It’s more expensive to treat but at least the treatment is effective. She’s absolutely the best we’ve ever had.”

According to du Toit seed crops are particularly susceptible to disease and it is critical to the industry to have the proper analysis and tools to raise a healthy crop.

“The seed companies are very selective about the growers with whom they’ll work,” she said. “It’s essential that the seed producers rely on good growing practices to produce high quality seed to meet the growing demand.”

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