BLACKFOOT – Two years short of a century ago, a group of Bingham County farmers dissatisfied with the prices they were getting for their crops formed an alfalfa growers association that would enable them to do their own marketing.
It was so successful that it’s still in business today, making Grimm Growers Warehouse Corp., the oldest continuously running business in Blackfoot.
There’s usually so little activity around it that most people drive by the large brick building sitting beside the Oregon Short Line Railroad tracks off South Broadway without paying it much attention, but in another month things will be different because the business specializes in seed and will be starting its harvest season, which runs from July to September.
The grower-owned association was founded in 1921 by farmers who specialized in Grimm alfalfa seed, the first variety developed that didn’t winter-kill. They were the largest distributor of registered Grimm alfalfa seed, according to current manager Chelsy Harten, who also chairs the board of directors.
Driving down a county road back in her great-grandfather’s day, when you saw a large oblong board on stilts beside a field, you knew you were passing the farm of an alfalfa seed grower because his leaf cutter bees, whose job was to pollinate the plants, lived in the boards.
But there are no more alfalfa seed growers in the county, she said, and the business has diversified and expanded so much over the years that it no longer specializes in the one seed it was named for but provides the foundation stock to growers whose farms produce seed for a multitude of uses.
“We carry more than 100 kinds of seed,” she said during an interview at the warehouse she runs with the aid of an office assistant and two other full-time warehouse workers. “All of our foundation stock seed for production is purchased from government sources, such as the University of Idaho-USDA Research Center at Aberdeen.”
The business carries more than 100 varieties of seed, Chelsy said, including 150 varieties of native grasses, forbs and shrubs. That includes wildflowers, and seed for these are grown in small plots, while the grass seed fields can be up to 100 acres.
The growers harvest the seed and bring it to the warehouse where it’s cleaned and stored. They’re paid by the pound for the seed, and prices can range from $4 to $15 for grasses, and as much as $100 for a certain wildflower. She added that wildflower seed is extremely difficult to grow and even more difficult to clean.
Much of the thousands of pounds of seed that comes to the warehouse each year is sold for federal government agencies’ programs for habitat restoration, as in the Sage Grouse Conservation Program and the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program under which dryland farmers are paid to reseed the land with native plants instead of growing crops, or to stop the farming of submarginal land that’s either environmentally sensitive or not sufficiently productive to make farming or cultivating it profitable.
When the seed is brought in it’s unloaded with an augur from which it goes through the seed cleaner where weed seeds and debris are removed, then down a chute to the basement where it’s stored in 50-pound bags.
One of the things Grimm specializes in is custom seed mixes, so the ground floor contains stacks of galvanized storage filled with various kinds of seeds to be mixed on order and sold in smaller amounts.
The original warehouse burned in 1929, Chelsy said, and was replaced with the current one of concrete and brick to make it fireproof and at the same time underwent some modernization. Back then it required a lot more workers.
“They would have up to 50 people during the harvest because the bags were bigger and heavier,” she said. “Now the use of fork lifts makes moving seed much easier.”