New technology helps increase efficiency in certified seed production
Bermudagrass has become the norm for just about anywhere warm-season grass is desired for beautiful turf. It has come a long way in the almost half century since it was classified as a noxious weed in many states. The first common bermudagrass was certified in Yuma, Ariz., in 1963, and today, Seeds West, Inc. in Yuma sells bermudagrass seed exclusively.
Growers, too, have come a long way in producing bermudagrass seed. Del Wakimoto, farm manager of Avi Kwa’ Ame Farm in Mojave Valley, Ariz., owned by the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, is an integral part of the seed production process. Avi Kwa’ Ame means the great mountain and comes from tribal beliefs of the people’s origin. Wakimoto is using technology that incorporates crop management research and high-tech tracking procedures to solve one of his biggest challenges: the distance that must be covered and time required in managing the 841 acres of bermudagrass seed fields grown on contract to Seeds West, a division of Pennington Seed, Inc.
The centerpiece of his management program is WebFarm$Sys. Wakimoto holds a graduate degree in agricultural economics from the University of Arizona. He has been using the Web-based system for about three years, which allows him to effectively manage his fields while cutting down on the miles and time required.
Wakimoto has managed Avi Kwa’ Ame Farm since 1990. He reports to the Fort Mojave Farm Board appointed by the Tribal Council. Tribal business interests are widely diversified in a resort and casino, golf course, electricity and cable television, as well as farm operations that span Arizona, California and Nevada.
Bermudagrass fields are a significant component in the 7,000-acre farm operations that also include cotton, alfalfa and a cattle operation, along with the Corner Feed and Tack, a retail store in Winslow, Ariz. For Wakimoto, that may mean a distance of some 30 miles across his fields requiring extensive travel time to check fields for irrigation or other needs. Tribal headquarters are in Needles, Calif.
Producing certified seed at Avi Kwa’ Ame
Wakimoto knew an efficient system was needed to track operations information of the large, diverse entity including costs, dates and amounts. Irrigation information for each field is of particular concern. In desert farming, few aspects of growing carry more importance than irrigation. Water has carried great significance throughout history for the Fort Mojave Indians, and the reservation is located along the Colorado River, which provides the irrigation water for agriculture on tribal lands.
“We started out using Palm Pilots to track our irrigation dates and amounts,” Wakimoto said. “But the guys didn’t like having to do that, so that didn’t work well.”
He teamed up with retired UA professor of agricultural economics, Russell Gum, who is president of a small consulting firm, ERCC Analytics, and develops Internet-based resources for agriculture (firstname.lastname@example.org). Over a few years time, WebFarm$Sys was developed.
WebFarm$Sys allows Wakimoto to track every aspect of the farm operations, with irrigation at the forefront of the certified bermudagrass production. Coefficients, or relative water use, based on the heat units accumulated have been identified for a number of crops. Heat units are the number of degree days in which plant growth occurs. Bermudagrass crop degree days are calculated with a low threshold of 41 degrees and a high threshold of 90 degrees. Evapotranspiration, or ET, depends on weather conditions. The irrigation module of WebFarm$Sys pulls information on a daily basis from UA’s Arizona Meteorological Network (AZMET). A formula indicates the rate and volume of water that is depleted from a field after irrigation.
Color-coded maps of the fields developed with GPS technology allow Wakimoto to quickly check the remaining water levels for plant growth of the various fields, and he can access WebFarm$Sys from any location with Internet access.
Implementation of the system at Avi Kwa’ Ame has been successful due to the team effort of Gum as well as crop management research and technological assistance from UA professors Paul Brown and Jeff Silversmith. Wakimoto particularly noted the support of the Fort Mojave Farm Board and the Tribal Council in incorporating the technology into the farm management process.
From breeder to grower to seed sales
The grower’s role in certified seed production is an essential step in the production process that starts with the plant breeder, who spends extensive time breeding and cross-breeding plants grown from germplasm. Once they have a viable variety available for commercial production, they can license marketing rights to a commercial seed company. If the breeding is done by a commercial seed company, that company owns the rights to the variety. The seed company then commercially develops the variety and produces foundation seed from which registered and certified seed is grown. While some seed is produced as registered seed, Seeds West goes directly from producing foundation seed to producing or contracting the production of certified seed.
Tom Bodderij, Seeds West general manager, noted, “We produce our elite seeds such as Princess 77 only on our own fields.” Seed companies contract with growers to produce the majority of the seeds, and growers are completely responsible for producing the crop.
“We’ve worked with Del Wakimoto for about five years. He is a very good grower, and he’s great to work with,” Bodderij said, noting the importance of a grower who takes care of the farm and produces clean seed.
Although growers make their own agronomic decisions, the seed certification process is managed by designated organizations that certify the process for both contract and seed company-produced seeds. Certifying organizations are located in many states, and in some locations are responsible for multi-state certification of seeds produced in their respective states. The Arizona Crop Improvement Association (ACIA), a nonprofit organization made up of members interested in producing pure seed, is responsible for certifying seed in that state.
Several requirements are in place for certified seed production fields. A distance of 900 feet must be maintained between different bermudagrass varieties to prevent cross-pollination, and fields are inspected prior to planting. In addition, no other variety of the same species may have been grown for three previous years on fields to be planted for certified seed production.
Abed Anouti, ACIA director, said, “Bermudagrass is aggressive. The inspections are to minimize the chance that bermudagrass may have unintentionally been in another crop with any volunteer bermudagrass remaining.”
After completing contract negotiations, Wakimoto applies for seed certification for specific fields. An ACIA representative physically views the fields during the bermudagrass production to assure that specific requirements are met, including certification that no noxious weeds or other weeds exist in the fields.
The field approval covers only the production process. A representative also checks combines of the harvester with whom Wakimoto contracts to be sure they are clean and assure that no seed contamination is carried onto the certified bermudagrass seed production fields.
Seed produced at Avi Kwa’ Ame Farm is delivered to Seeds West where it is cleaned and a sample is sent to a laboratory approved by ACIA. The seed must test at 97 percent variety purity with 80 percent germination.
While the grower is not directly involved in the seed certification process, the efficiency with which the operation is managed is important in maintaining a profitable operation and producing clean seed. Wakimoto emphasized the contribution of WebFarm$Sys. In addition to keeping track of agronomic and cost information, the system tracks orders and inventory.
Gum is continuing to further develop the system and will adapt it to new, portable, Internet-access devices.
Nancy Riggs is a freelance writer and has been covering the green industry for Turf for almost 20 years. She resides in Mt. Zion, Ill.