It's a basic truth that every farmer MUST understand.
You could be the biggest...richest farmer in the area. You might have brand new equipment that is worth millions of dollars. You might farm the very best land. You might be watching the 'perfect season' that you always thought was a myth...unfold right before your eyes.
But if you don't make SURE that you are putting good seed in the ground in the spring...then everything you do after you seed could be a waste of time...and quite likely a HUGE waste of money.
Everything...begins with the seed.
Helping farmers be certain that they are using good seed...the RIGHT seed...is work that Brent McCarthy and the people at McCarthy Seeds takes very seriously.
Brent explains that McCarthy Seeds grew up out of a desire that is common to most farmers.
"My Dad started the company in 1980. He'd sold the cows...and he wanted to find something else that he could do to 'keep busy'. So, he bought a Seed Cleaner and began doing custom cleaning. That was what the business was."
It was after Brent took over the business and decided to take the company in a different direction.
"I took over the company, and five years ago I decided that we weren't going to do custom cleaning anymore. Instead, we have gone into pedigree seed production and sales. As the company has evolved, the farm evolved with it. My dad used to farm 2,000 acres. The farm has since expanded to 4,000 acres...and 70% of the land is used for pedigree seed production."
Brent explains that the process of putting new seed varieties into farmer's hands starts with the Plant Breeder.
"A Plant Breeder's goal is to produce a new variety of seed for sale. When we decide to go with a particular seed variety, we go to the Plant Breeder and obtain a 15 Kilo bag of the seed. That bag of seed might represent ten years of effort for the Plant Breeder. These people do good work, and they invest a lot in the varieties that they develop. When they hand a bag of seed to us, they really are trusting us NOT to mess up all of their hard work!"
Once they have that bag of seed, Brent says that it can take another 4-5 years before the seed becomes available to the farmer.
"When we begin growing the seed in order to propagate it, there are several stages that we have to go through until we've taken that variety to the point where we can start selling it as certified seed. Through each stage, there are very specific specifications involving purity rate and isolation rate (along with other factors) that we have to meet. And every year, independent inspectors come in to examine the seed. So, when a farmer buys certified seed from us, they can be certain that seed has gone through a very rigorous process, to make sure that it is EXACTLY what we say it is."
Brent notes that there are several benefits to using pedigree seed for farmers...no matter what kind of farming operation they are involved in.
"Different plant varieties are being developed to deal with specific challenges. There are varieties of wheat, for example, that are specifically bred to be resistant to things like Wheat Midge and Fusarium. Things like this are a huge concern for farmers...irregardless of how big their farming operation is. Organic farmers have the same concerns. And, because an organic farmer can't use spray to control these things; they are very happy to be able to get some assistance from the plant's genetics. And of course, there is always work being done to improve things like protein and yield."
Brent notes that McCarthy Seeds offers a variety of different crop options to their customers.
"We offer a broad range of different crops. Most of our crops are cereals. But, we also have flax and pulse crops (particularly peas) available too. We are also moving into soybeans, and the future for that crop looks very bright."
While Brent acknowledges that they have several options open to them when they are ready to purchase their seed...he points out that there are some very good reasons for farmers to choose McCarthy Seeds.
"When we offer a variety of seed to the farmer, we are offering him something that we have real experience with. We have grown that seed HERE...in THIS area...for several years...through a variety of different weather conditions. We KNOW how that seed performs. We know where it likes to grow best and what conditions it is able to tolerate."
"We can provide real answers to common questions that farmers have as well. For example, a farmer will often want to know how fast a particular variety 'shells out'. That's because...when they have thousands of acres left to harvest...and it's 30 above outside...they want to know just how fast they can run that combine! We can tell them whether a particular variety will let them go a little faster...and when a variety might tend to go through the combine a bit harder and force them to slow down."
Brent says that pedigree seed production can be much more 'labor intensive' than commercial farming.
"Being a seed grower means that you have to worry about things an average commercial farmer doesn't have to consider. You have to make sure that each seed variety is grown so that it is properly isolated. And, you have to be certain that EVERYTHING is clean. I don't know of many farmers that take their combine down to the dug-out and wash the entire thing out...each time they move into a different crop. But, things like washing out the combine...and all of our equipment...is just a normal routine for us."
However, Brent says that McCarthy Seeds is a 'family farm'...one that he would be more than pleased to pass on to his sons some day.
"When I walk through our fields to check for impurities, my wife and our boys are out there too. The boys have been doing that since they were tall enough to see over the wheat! If one or both of them wanted to take over this place, I'd be happy to see that. I would tell them to do what I did...go and get their education...travel a bit and see what the world has to offer. But I would want them to know that...if they decided that they wanted to come back...this place will be here waiting for them."
© Kipling Citizen