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New structure on Northwest Depot Road will hold 153 semitruck loads of grass seed.

DESIREE BERGSTROM/MADRAS PIONEER - Dean Boyle, manager of the Madras Pratum Cooperative, stands in front of the 20,000-square-foot seed storage and cleaning facility going up at their Northwest Depot Road location. The new structure will be able to hold 3.5 million pounds of grass seed.
A large wooden structure, about 20,000 square feet in total, is taking shape, just off of U.S. Highway 97, on Northwest Depot Road, as Pratum Cooperative, gets closer to completing their newest grass seed storage and cleaning facility.

With the beginning of harvest right around the corner for grass seed, Dean Boyle, the branch manager for the agronomy co-op's Central Oregon branch, said the building is scheduled to be complete by July 15. The goal is to have at least the storage portion of the building ready as seed begins to come in out of the fields.

"This has been a big, big project and it snowed so late that we got a really late start on it," Boyle said.

The new building, once completed, will be able to hold up to 3.5 million pounds of grass seed equivalent to about 153 semi-truck loads of seed.

The reason behind the new build is quite simple: an old building was no longer useable. The co-op tore the building down and in its place made the decision to build a more efficient and bigger facility.

The new building will be able to store about twice as much as the building they took down, said Boyle, not to mention it will be far more efficient.

When the seed comes in out of the field, a truck will haul it in and dump it into a special pit in the floor of the new facility. From there, a large blower will blow it up and out to where you want it to go. A "contraption," as Boyle called it, can be set to route the seed through the tubing to different places.

"It's like a big reverse vacuum," he said.

The seed is blown into storage bins from up above the bins that go nearly all the way to the roof of the building. Metal plates in the concrete floor conceal the other part of the vacuum system. The plates come up and the vacuum tubing comes out so that different bins can be emptied at different times. The seed is sucked out of the bins and travels to the cleaning line.

Pratum Cooperative got its start in 1946, just east of Salem. Now the co-op is headquartered out of Salem and purchased the Central Oregon location from CHS in February 2017.

Cooperatives have a history of giving groups of farmers a way of obtaining better prices.

"A co-op is a group of individuals that come together to form a business. The reason they were formed was so that the smaller ag people could get power in buying, because, it is really tough to go out there and buy a small amount of fertilizer. The cost is higher. So number one, it gives them a supply and it gives them a competitive price," said Boyle.

"The co-op makes money, hopefully, and then whatever money that they decide they are not going to reinvest back into the business goes into equity accounts for the members/owners of the cooperative. After a certain period of time that money is given back to them," he said

At Pratum's Central Oregon Branch they pretty much only process grass seed, according to Boyle, who said, "We process Kentucky blue grass and a blue grass called Poa trivialis."

"Kentucky blue grass is called Poa pratensis; that's its scientific name. Rough-stock blue grass is called Poa trivialis and most people just call it 'Poa triv.' 'Poa triv' is used extensively in the golf course industry in the southern half of the United States to overseed the warm season grasses in the wintertime," he said.

"In the wintertime, if you go down to the southern part of the United States, the warm season grasses go dormant and turn brown. So you have to overseed with a cool season grass that will be green," he continued.

According to Boyle, Poa trivialis can be mowed very short, and golf courses can use it on the greens and in the tee boxes.

Just as the market for the rough-stock blue grass is pretty specific, so is the place where it is grown. Boyle said about 90% of all Poa triviallis used throughout the United States is grown in Jefferson County.

All of the seed that will be brought into the new facility this year, and all of the seed that Pratum takes in, in general, is contract grown. That means that the co-op has contracts with producers to grow the two types of grass and then bring it to the co-op at the end of the season.

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