When Jerry Robinson started at the Washington Crop Improvement Association 14 years ago, there were about 80 seed varieties in inventory.
"We didn't necessarily plant all of those," he said.
By the time he retired in December, the program certified 123 varieties from Washington State University and Oregon State University.
The nonprofit organization works with WSU, the state Department of Agriculture and seed growers and conditioners to develop, produce and distribute certified seed to improve crop yields for small grains, pulses and other crops.
"I think we've reached somewhat of a saturation point" in the number of varieties, Robinson said.
Seed dealers are starting to limit the number of varieties they carry because they can't carry all of them, Robinson said.
"I think we've got to be real careful about what we do in the next few years," Robinson said. "We have to replace varieties and not just add to them."
Robinson, 65, retired on Dec. 31. He will work part-time for the association, he said. Lauren Port is the new manager.
Robinson joined the association in 2004 and took over as manager in 2007.
Robinson began working for his father in 1971 at Stubbs Seed Services in Moscow, Idaho, which managed peas, lentils and chickpea seed.
"I found it rather intriguing that you always had to have a quality product," Robinson said. "(It) kind of gave you some pride in your work. It produced a good product, which would show a good product in the field."
Robinson enjoyed seeing the process from beginning to end.
"I liked to watch from one or two plants for breeding purposes up to being a complete field, it was always kind of fun to watch," he said.
Robinson ultimately purchased the company, closing it in 2000 due to a downturn in the economy.
He went to work for Columbia Grain as pulse seed manager, then joined the crop improvement association, managing the foundation seed program.
Robinson is proudest of growing the program to the point that it's self-sustaining. It's involved as a "go-to" organization for breeders in the state for seed and new varieties, he said.
The association has purchased a seed plant in Moses Lake, expected to be operational for cleaning, treating and dispersing foundation seed by this fall. The facility is being rebuilt, he said.
Most of the association's production and sales are in the Columbia Basin, Robinson said.
Dana Herron, who is retiring from Tri-State Seed LLC in Connell, Wash., said he was excited when Robinson first joined the association.
"It was gratifying to know someone was going to take the job who actually had field experience, that knew some of the problems that existed," Herron said.
Herron credits Robinson with helping to streamline seed certification and working with the industry and state to make improvements.
"Jerry always had the customer foremost on his mind," Herron said. "That's what I admire about him the most."
About 91-93 percent of all seed sold in the state is certified, Herron said.
"If you measure program success by the acres of certified seed planted, it's by far and away the best program in the nation," he said. "All the growers expect their seed to be certified — that is not true in other parts of the country."
Robinson said the farmers in Washington and Idaho he dealt with are progressive, intelligent and "really good people."
"It's been a great run," he said of his time in the industry. "I just love the growers to death, frankly. It's just been a pleasure to work with them."