Oregon Grown Ryegrass
Meadowood Industries Inc. was found in 1977 as the result of a desire to utilize the remainder of the crop after grass seed is harvested. The Oregon grass seed industry is an integral part of the Willamette Valley economy while providing a vital component to Turf, Landscape, Erosion Control, and Livestock industries world wide. Value added utilization of the seed crop byproduct can bring additional economic benefit to growers. Successful long term board production will help in part to resolve some environmental concerns and enhance sustainable agriculture.
The poorly drained soils and the usually abundant rainfall in the Willamette Valley are very well suited to the production of grass seed. Most other field crops are not as tolerant of the high moisture conditions, and do not produce well. These ideal conditions help Willamette Valley growers produce about 60% of the grass seed used in the world. Ryegrass is the most common variety. Oregon grass seed has many important uses.
Production of seed entails removal of about 600,000 to 1,000,000 tons of straw from the fields each year. Field burning after harvest is the most efficient removal process, and is very important for control of plant diseases such as ergot. However, the smoke creates considerable air quality problems because of the airflow patterns and topography of the valley area. Legislation was adopted in the early 1970's that would ban all open field burning by 1975. The legislation also encouraged seeking both alternatives to field burning and alternate crops. More stringent environmental regulations were enacted by the 1991 Oregon Legislature. These regulations have incrementally reduced the Willamette Valley acreage allowed for open field burning from an initial 250,000 to approximately 40,000 acres in the 1999 season.
Seed production persists as a strong component of the Willamette Valley economy in spite of higher production costs and the search for alternate crops. Strong demand for Oregon Grass Seed has resulted in acreage increases from 250,000 in the late 1960's to 450,000 acres in the late 1990's Finding value added uses for the grass stems after seed harvest continues as an important issue for growers. Roadside mulching and Construction site remediation are viable uses but not in large quantities. Export demands for grass straw other than annual ryegrass exceeded 450,000 tons for the 1998 season. A good percentage of the resource remains available for alternate use.
The stem of the ryegrass plant retains more of the toughness after drying and is less brittle than most cereal grain stalks. The stem of rice has greater tensile strength but bends easier. Therefore ryegrass is the preferred raw material for Meadowood Industries, Inc.
The quality of Meadowood products are very dependent on the quality and consistency of the ryegrass crop before the seed is harvested. Many agricultural practices are involved during the annual cycle of cultivation, planting, nurturing, harvesting, field cleanup and seed processing. Farming experience is the major key to quality control of the raw material for board production.
The greatest unknowns for seed producers are the weather, the price that will be received for the seed, and governmental regulatory uncertainty. Cool weather and/or not enough rain can mean a short crop, or too much rain after the crop is ripening in the windrow can result in mildew that may ruin the crop. Like nearly all farm commodities, the price paid to the grower for grass seed is determined by supply and demand, but with major influence by the middlemen between the grower and the customer who ultimately plants the seed. The local, state and federal regulatory climate is often the greatest challenge with concerns of air and water quality, wildlife preservation, worker health and safety, chemical application restriction and urban encroachment issues taking more and more time away from the business of producing a quality crop.
Pictures help tell a brief portion of the story of growing this important Oregon crop in the next section.
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