West Coast Beet Seed Company 75th Anniversary 1940-2015
Larry Ronsberg, General Manager Beet Seed Division, Technical Services Center
This summer, West Coast Beet Seed Company (WCBSC), Salem OR celebrated its 75th anniversary as a seed multiplication company. Current member companies include: American Crystal Sugar Company, Holly Seed LLC, SES VanderHave and Syngenta Seeds. One of the things that make WCBSC unique is that the ownership is made up of competing seed companies. The seed companies understood they could be more efficient and confidently manage the isolation distances to ensure trait purity more effectively if they worked together as a single company.
Prior to 1940, the U.S. sugar industry was dependent upon a more mature European sugarbeet industry to provide them with sugarbeet seed. Concerns about sugarbeet seed availability from Europe began to develop around the time of World War I as communication, business trade and transportation became difficult. It was apparent to the leaders of the U.S. sugar industry if they were going to survive; they needed to grow sugarbeet seed domestically. In 1936, a committee was formed by several sugar companies to investigate the possibility of producing sugarbeet seed in the United States. This committee investigated many areas thought to be suitable for sugarbeet seed production. Some of these area included Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington. Ultimately, the Willamette Valley of Oregon was chosen as the best area for sugarbeet seed production and West Coast Beet Seed Company was formed on May 20, 1940 with nine original shareholders. American Crystal Sugar Company was one of the original shareholders.
Some of the reasons for choosing the Oregon location include:
- Long cool winter to provide more complete thermal induction, but not so cold that the sugarbeet plants would be subjected to prolonged freezing conditions.
- An annual rainfall around 40” with the majority of the precipitation coming in the winter months with a dry summer to allow the seed mature and to be harvested under dry conditions.
- Low incidence of plant diseases or insect pressure that would negatively impact seed quality or yield.
- With over one million acres, it provided an agricultural area large enough to allow the isolation necessary for a wind pollinated seed crop.
Sugarbeet Seed Production
Each year the member companies contract with WCBSC to produce a specific amount of sugarbeet seed of each of the varieties they intend to market in the future. WCBSC will adhere to strict isolation requirements and contract with growers to produce seed, minimizing the risk of genetic contamination with other sugarbeet varieties or Beta species (red beet or Swiss chard). Throughout the growing season, field agronomists provide the growers with sound agronomic advice to maximize both seed yield and quality.
The sugarbeet plant is a biennial, meaning it takes two years to complete its biological lifecycle. By planting seed of the parent lines in August it is possible to produce hybrid sugarbeet seed in twelve months (August to August). So as growers in the Red River Valley are currently making their decisions on which variety to plant for the 2016 crop; seed companies have already planted basic seed of parent lines to produce seed for the 2017 crop.