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Golden Valley Seed ships around the world

September 10, 2001|By JASON ZARA, Special to this newspaper

Warehouses full of product are assembled, labeled and shipped to the Middle East, the Mediterranean, Central America, South America n all over the world. But this isn't a major industrial port in Los Angeles or New York, it is Golden Valley Seed right here in El Centro.

Golden Valley Seed supplies vegetable seed to other seed companies and to distributors. While Golden Valley Seed specializes in onions, tomatoes and vine seed, especially summer squash, the company deals in almost every vegetable available.

President and owner Nassif Burkhuch said he and his partner, Clark Sarchet, bought the company in 1998.

"We believed in (the company) and we believed in what we were doing," Burkhuch said.

Golden Valley Seed produces its own seeds, breeds hybrids and buys seeds from other markets. And with much of the company's sales going to countries halfway across the world, many of the company's goals are different than they would be to sell seeds locally.


"We're looking at what does the rest of the world like," said Burkhuch, adding that tomatoes are one of the company's biggest sellers. "They're virtually in every diet in every society in the world."

Burkhuch said countries such as Italy, Holland and France buy seed for export, explaining that those countries don't produce their own seed.

Sarchet said in breeding hybrids, they create products based on demand.

"We look for what the market wants and then we breed for that," he said.

While what the market wants varies, he said qualities such as disease resistance, long shelf life, uniform appearance and good consistency are among the standards.

And the Imperial Valley is an excellent testing ground for new seeds n Burkhuch said anything which flourishes in the summer here can be expected to succeed anywhere in the world.

"We aren't growing these things under their most optimum conditions," Sarchet said. "Under optimum conditions any plant can survive."

Burkhuch explained some of the differences in selling internationally with an example. He said in the United States, we have different growing zones and can also import from Mexico and other areas, essentially providing a 12-month growing period. That means that fresh produce is available at any time of year, making shelf life less of a consideration. In India, however, he said the onion crop is planted once a year and harvested once a year, and because of that they require a six- to eight-month shelf life. He also said in India a pungent onion is preferred to a sweet onion.

"Sometimes what we consider here … some of the characteristics that we consider excellent, the people in the third world countries don't care about," he said.

Whatever standards the company is trying to meet at the time, constant testing is needed to make sure they are dealing in high-quality seeds.

"Every six months we test our commercial inventory," Burkhuch said, adding that a valid germination certificate is required every six months for sellable inventory. "All our seed that we produce … when we bring it here, we test it."

International law requires a minimum 85 percent germination and 99 percent purity in seed. Burkhuch said the company has not faced a single lawsuit since he took it over.

While anytime two plants are crossbred the result is a hybrid, breeding a hybrid for specific characteristics that will flourish under difficult conditions is a more difficult task. While the breeding process varies by crop, the process can include literally pollinating flowers manually and then tying the flowers closed to avoid contamination. Because of the labor involved, a lot of breeding is done in other countries, such as India and China, where labor costs are significantly less.

Generally growing for seed renders the fruit useless.

"When the onion plant goes to seed, it consumes the bulb. In squashes, the seed is inside the squash so you have to destroy the fruit to get the seed," Sarchet said.

Sarchet said in nature, species breed for survival of the fittest. In breeding seed for sales, he said, the company is breeding for survival of the most fit for the circumstances.

Burkhuch added the company does not use genetic engineering; all new hybrids are created through careful breeding.

Golden Valley Seed's warehouse is set up to fill and label containers ranging from small cans to large buckets. The company sells under its own label or will label the containers for whoever will be reselling them. Seeds are stored in temperature- and humidity-controlled storerooms.

Burkhuch said while tomatoes used to be their number one seller, onions now account for about 40 percent of their business. Tomatoes and vine seed account for about 25 percent each, while the remaining 10 percent of their business is a bit of everything else. The company sells about $2.5 to $3 million annually.

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