Seed crops take special knowledge, grower says
By Heather Smith Thomas
For the Capital Press
Paul Rasgorshek has farmed near Nampa, Idaho, for more than three decades.
“This year will be my 32nd crop. I started farming on my own in 1982 and now have 14 full-time employees,” he says. “We also do custom farming for two dairies, managing their silage corn and hay.”
Diversification is key on his farm. This spring he’ll have 650 acres of alfalfa seed, 170 acres of sugarbeets, 160 acres of wheat, 72 acres of mint, 16 acres of onion seed, 15 acres of carrot seed and some miscellaneous seed crops.
“Treasure Valley farmers grow a variety of seed crops; there are many seed companies here,” he says. “They own the genetics and hire us to grow their seed crops, paying on a per-unit basis.”
He plants the male and female parent seeds, he says, and produces the hybrid that seed companies sell to commercial growers.
He uses honeybees to pollinate the crops. The female parent lines of those crops are sterile so bees are necessary to take pollen from the “bull” rows to the female rows.
“For the alfalfa seed we use leafcutter bees for pollination, purchasing them from Canada, Wyoming and local sources. Leafcutter bees only live a short time so we purchase them as needed,” he explains. “We purchase immature bees (in cocoon stage) in January and incubate them, timing them to when the alfalfa is blooming the second week of June. They incubate for 21 days at 85 degrees and then hatch and are ready to go to work.”
It takes two years to produce carrot seed or onion seed.
“Onion seed is planted the first of July and harvested in August the next year. Carrot seed is grown the same way. It has to go through the wintering process and grow again from the root so it will bolt and produce seed,” Rasgorshek explains.
The seed must be planted at the appropriate time.
“Carrot seed is planted end of August or first of September. Then the carrots grow big enough to get through winter. You don’t want them too big or too small. Onion seed is planted early July, which allows the plant to get to a certain growth stage so it can survive winter,” he says.
After a seed crop is harvested, a different crop is put into that field.
“We don’t go back with the same crop because it may be a different variety,” Rasgorshek says. A new seedbed has less risk for seed left in the soil from the earlier crop.
Fields are furrow irrigated with water from a canal system.
“We use siphon tubes along the ditch, into the furrows, and have full-time crews changing water,” he explains.
“My dad grew seed crops. My place is close to where I grew up, and we worked together, sharing equipment. In 2003 we relocated our farm to get away from development — and have been farming here since 2004,” says Rasgorshek.
Time farming: 32 years
Crops: Alfalfa seed, mint, wheat seed, sugarbeets, onion seed, carrot seed, silage corn