2018 Summer Conference and Seed Trials

September 5-7, Northern California

Arriving in northern California on a brilliant day on Wednesday, September 5, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the typically hot, dry California day had cooled to a comfortable 60°F. This would be the weather pattern for the entirety of the conference. Our family-owned conference hotel, Granzalla’s Inn in Williams, CA was a village unto itself—an all-in-one complex comprised of a banquet hall, beverage store, deli, and sports lounge, which featured an interesting collection of stuffed and mounted big game animals. The itinerary for the coming days would include a tour of Morningstar tomato packing facility, an exploration of Emerald Farms nut production operation, a visit to Sakata Seed Company’s new complex and Syngenta Seed Research Station, a stop at Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, plus plant trial visits, illuminating panel discussions and fun conversations.


We connected with new members and long-time colleagues at our traditional welcome reception, hosted by Sakata Home Grown and held at our unique conference venue. Catching up with friends and meeting colleagues is a key value of this annual summer meeting, and a real pleasure for all. Seed industry representatives from throughout the United States as well as Canada, England, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic came together in northern California for the experience.

The next morning we departed just after breakfast for our first tour: the Morning Star Packaging facility in Williams, CA, located in the heart of California’s tomato production areas. A continuous procession of tomato- filled trailers entered the property during our time there. We were treated to a tour of the factory where 630 tons of tomatoes are processed into paste each hour! Morning Star is, we learned, the biggest production plant of its kind in the world.

We traveled from Williams to Willows, enjoying views of California’s extensive agricultural economy as we passed by rice fields, tomato operations, almond and walnut orchards. We arrived at Terra Organics and the HGSA Garden Trials at round noon, and examined the beautiful borders of sunflowers, zinnias, marigolds and other flowers grown from members’ seeds. Afterwards we enjoyed a delicious and relaxing lunch hosted by Mountain Valley Seed Company.

Next stop was Seeds by Design in Maxwell, where the HGSA field trials were planted. By midday it was hot and very sunny but that did not stop us from viewing the rows upon rows of tomatoes, squash, peppers, and eggplants as well as colorful patches of flowers planted to attract pollinators. Members had sent seeds to the trial garden manager in early spring, and now everything was ready for tasting. And taste we did!

We then toured the Seeds by Design seed operation, visiting the warehouse and learning about the equipment used for washing, drying, and conditioning seeds. This was directly followed by a walk-through of the Emerald Farms operations, including their facility for processing the walnuts and almonds grown on thousands of acres of nut orchards. We were fascinated by the optical sorting mechanism, which rejects the black walnuts, and sorts the already-hulled brown from the green nuts.

The tour of sorting and drying machinery was capped off by a tasting of nut butters and other yummy value-added products made from Emerald Farms nuts.

And then it was back on the bus. The final destination for the day was Granzella’s banquet facility, where we were to be treated to an evening reception and a hearty dinner. Prior to the meal, a thought-provoking panel discussion on the topic of “California Agriculture’s Young leaders and their Challenges” enlightened us about the unique challenges faced by growers in the nation’s leading farm state.

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The next morning we departed the hotel bright and early, bound for Heinz Processing Tomato Trial in Woodland. It was here that we learned about the science of tomato processing. “The processing tomato market is all about internal chemistry,” Matt Leinfelder, manager of seed operations at Kraft Heinz explained. We also learned about self-driving tractors, and the mechanical weeders that are on the horizon!

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Moving the summer meeting to different parts of the country allows us to see members’ operations. Our next stop was Sakata Seed’s new Research Station, followed by Syngenta Seed’s Research Station, both located in Woodland. Sakata’s complex included 200 acres and netted houses for seed production as well as a state-of-the-art research facility. At Syngenta we visited the pathology lab where plants are tested and bred for disease resistance, and enjoyed a watermelon tasting—a perfect activity for a hot and sunny California day!

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The final destination was a photographer’s dream: Haagen Dazs Bee Haven at UC Davis, a unique outdoor museum that provides pollinator resources, educates visitors, and provides a site for bee studies. On just a half-acre of land over 200 species of plants keep the garden in bloom year round!

The closing reception and HGSA Summer Membership Meeting at Granzella’s banquet facility was sponsored by three member organizations: Hammer Packaging, American Meadows, and Mountain Valley Seed. It was a fun finish to an enjoyable three days. Afterwards small groups dined in local restaurants of choice and said their farewells—until the next meeting of the Home Garden Seed Association.

To see more photos of the 2018 HGSA Williams, CA conference, access Brian Markham’s complete album here.