Matt Hilbert, Wild West Seed Co.

Matt Hilbert

Matt Hilbert, the business development manager of Wild West Seed, amid Echinacea purpurea, also called Purple Coneflower, in Meridian, Idaho, last July.

Wild West Seed Inc. has a quiet but substantial presence in southwest Idaho, where it grows some of its flower seeds and most of its vegetable seed.

“The Treasure Valley is far and away our biggest production region by acres,” Business Development Manager Matt Hilbert said. “On the vegetable side, most is grown in the Treasure Valley.”

The 20-year-old Wild West Seed, a family-owned company based in Albany, Ore., produces open-pollinated flower, vegetable and herb seed, and wildflower mixes for other seed companies that sell primarily to home gardeners. With 10 full-time employees, it does business nationally and to an extent internationally — competing with big-name, merger-enlarged agribusinesses, among others.

“Those big companies participate in the same market. We are definitely small,” Hilbert said. “We will be faced with our challenges, but we enjoy what we are doing. Mother Nature can throw you the challenge, but the real challenge is overcoming. Between us in the group, we usually come up with some pretty good solutions.”

Wild West grows echinacea and perennial blue flax flower seed in the Treasure Valley of southwestern Idaho and southeastern Oregon, and has tried to grow some other flower seed in the region. It’s one of the company’s smaller flower-seed production areas, “but we have had growers in the area express interest in growing flower seed for us,” he said. “That is relatively new. Growers are interested in flower production.”

Wild West grows some herbs such as dill in the Treasure Valley. Hilbert said about 70 percent of revenue comes from vegetables and herb seed, the rest from flower seed. The company grows most of its flower seed in the Willamette Valley of western Oregon.

“The share from flower seed has gone up — not in a big way, but it has increased a bit in the past four to five years,” he said.

Seeds for edibles were in high demand during the recession years of 2008 and ’09, when the popularity of vegetable gardens surged, Hilbert said. “Since then, flowers have rebounded a bit, a contributing factor being interest in pollinator habitat.”

Though the home garden market is Wild West’s main segment and has seen increased interest in pollinating insects, the company also may deal to an extent with farmland put into a federal conservation program. Recent years have seen new incentives to add pollinator habitat to conservation land.

“We may help them source that seed, probably from a seed company that is in their region or has formulated regionally appropriate conservation mixes,” Hilbert said. Some of that seed could come from Wild West, which since its inception has developed seed blends suited to particular regions.

The company lately is doing some more organic seed production. And it is developing more specialized products, including certain pollinator-attracting flowers.

Gardeners and the garden-seed industry are learning more about “which insects like which plants, and why,” Hilbert said.

field reporter, SW Idaho and SE Oregon

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