The Willamette Valley is situated between the Oregon Coast and the Cascade Mountains in northwest America. Its rich fertile soil and high levels of rainfall have made the valley one of the largest seed crop producing regions in the world. In 1983, seven farms began growing meadowfoam seed for what would eventually become the cooperative OMG (Oregon Meadowfoam Growers). Since 2000, Mike Martinez has led the cooperative’s efforts to commercialise meadowfoam seed oil, found in our Botanical Shine Conditioner for normal hair, and identify other interesting crops to grow, including the Daikon radish seed oil found in our Botanical Shine Nourishing Hair Oil.
From the field
JH: Mike, tell me more about OMG?
MM: OMG now has over cooperative 50 member farms, over half of which are multi-generational, all dedicated to the production of meadowfoam and Daikon radish seeds. We hold regular meetings with our growers and have a staff agronomist to support, monitor, and maximise sustainable crop production.
JH: Describe the Willamette Valley and the farms of OMG.
MM: The valley is 100 miles long, stretching from Salem in the north to Eugene in the south. Around 400,000 acres is given over to grass seed production, with vineyards, vegetable crops and nurseries making up another 5,000 acres of production. Valley agriculture is dependent both on longitude and latitude. One of our greatest challenges is to find crops that benefit the greatest number of our farms. Some farms have very heavy water-logged soils or land with thin top soil and both these scenarios constrain crop choices. Other farms have remarkable river bottom soil that is arguably some of the best in the valley. For the most part, they can grow anything.
JH: What makes growing in the Willamette Valley special?
MM: Oregon agriculture is different from the mainstream American staples of corn, wheat, soy and cotton – all big commodity products. The Willamette Valley is smaller scale – market-oriented, contract-driven, and attuned to niche ingredients. I like the concept of linking market-oriented producers with a seed predilection with the right market. The personal care market is constantly changing, looking for a good story, sustainability, new ingredients and good science. My job is about marrying up what the market is looking for and what is going on in the valley.
JH: Why did you select Daikon radish seed oil to be your second product?
MM: There are three reasons behind choosing Daikon as our second product. First, it is a viable rotation crop in the Willamette Valley. Second, it is an oilseed. Third, that oil had a chemistry that was relevant to personal care. Basically, we could grow it, it contained something we know how to make and sell, and we were willing to bet our customers would find it interesting. Daikon represents a good balance for the cooperative. Meadowfoam was so broadly liked because it grew on all soil types. Daikon isn’t perfect, but it can be viably grown on most soils – save the high clay, high water table soils in the southern part of the valley.
JH: What’s special about radish seed oil?
MM: Radish seed is a lightweight oil with a texture more commonly associated with esters and silicone than with a typical seed oil. It is this unique feel, resulting from its chemistry and different fatty acid composition, that sets it apart from the typical cosmetic oils and makes it interesting for our customers.
JH: How many of the farmers in the cooperative are producing Daikon?
MM: So far, we’ve had eight farmers produce Daikon radish seed. Our estimate is that approximately half of the cooperative has grown radish for other companies at some point. The growers selected so far are those that have the most experience producing Daikon, which allows our field department manager to rapidly learn the nuances of the crop as he works with those farms.
JH: How is Daikon different from the meadowfoam and grass seeds the farmers have been growing?
MM: Radish has two primary differences: first, it is a spring-planted crop; second, the harvest equipment is slightly different. Since radish seed grows in a pod, the combine used to harvest seed has a modification that cracks the pod before threshing the plant material. The other differences – nutrients, disease monitoring – are fairly subtle.
JH: Can a farm grow both Daikon and meadowfoam in the same season?
MM: We could not actually double crop (two crops in one season) meadowfoam and Daikon. However, Daikon has the same benefit to the farms that meadowfoam does: it is a rotation tool that removes the need to go a year without economic return. With a fall-planted crop like meadowfoam, a farm would harvest grass or grain in summer and plant meadowfoam in October. That would be harvested the following July. With radish, the grower would allow a perennial crop (like perennial ryegrass) to grow through the fall, possibly grazing it with sheep, remove the crop in spring, and then plant radish. Radish seed is harvested in August.
JH: So what’s next for you and the farmers of OMG?
MM: A lot of the farmers are starting to look at farming methods, riparian impact and how they impact sustainability. We’re researching small and alternative grains that fit in with the other seed crops the farmers are producing. We’re still a small shop, at the ‘tween’ stage, so we’re careful and selective about what we do next. A new crop for those high clay soils is one of our current projects!