JUNCTION CITY, Ore. — Vaughn Forbes started his seed business with $50 in the pantry of his home in 1976.
Now, Forbes Seed and Grain has an added division, Pacific Seed Production, and ships his seed to around 15 countries.
“I provide jobs and try to pay a livable wage,” Forbes said about his company. “I’m probably no different than most other small businesses.”
Forbes has been involved with seed his entire life, and worked for an international seed company from 1968 to 1976 before he started his business. He said that enterprise wasn’t doing well, and it made sense for him to go off on his own.
In the beginning, he said his wife insisted that they take their Lord in as a partner. Forbes said they did what they could to seek His favor and do what He wanted them to do.
He said it was a “wise decision” because when they had their office near the Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicles Division in Junction City, a representative of the biggest vegetable seed company in South Korea walked in the front door and asked Forbes to grow radish seed for him.
“Stuff like that doesn’t happen,” he said. “How did he find Junction City, Oregon? Stuff like that’s happened over 43 years in business. I’m smart enough to know I get a paycheck and that’s all I can take ownership of.”
After he cemented his connection to South Korea in 1987, Forbes started to focus on getting into other countries. Around 60 percent of his sales are domestic and 40 percent are international, he estimated.
Now, Forbes Seed and Grain ships to Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay, Taiwan, China, Japan, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Russia and Australia.
He said although it’s business, it’s more about relationships.
“I have friends all over the world,” he said. One of his colleagues in Texas said that it’s more fun trading with friends, and that idea stuck with him. “I’ve tried to develop relationships as friends, then costumers. It makes everything a whole lot easier.”
Since opening, he has moved to his current location on Highway 99E, where he built a warehouse and slowly added onto the 10.5-acre property. There he expanded into a new division, Pacific Seed Production, which produces vegetable seeds that are both open pollinated and hybrid varieties.
“I wanted to diversify,” he said, “and it’s a heck of a lot less competition in vegetable seed than grass seed.”
Over the course of his time with the company, there have been “only several thousand” challenges, he said with a laugh. One of the biggest examples was the 1994 E. coli breakout in Japan, linked to a traditional meal that involved beef and radish sprouts. Although Forbes believes it was likely the fault of another ingredient, he said the smaller market of radish was blamed. Ten containers that Forbes had in his warehouse couldn’t be shipped as a result.
“That was a challenge; it took forever to work through it and the prices went down to nothing,” he said. “It was a blessing, though, because we found other uses for it, got through it and now have additional customers.”
It turns out that radish sprouts are also valuable as a cover crop.
Going forward, Forbes has one last future objective: “I want to try to work until I’m 80; that’s my goal.”