Pasco seed laboratory ready to grow

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldNovember 17, 2012 

The only Syngenta plant of its kind in the U.S. is preparing for another expansion in Pasco.

Syngenta opened its $42 million seed processing facility in Pasco in October 2009.

And the company is in the midst of expanding its seed quality laboratory to handle more of its own quality tests for seeds such as sweet corn, said Kevin Lane, site manager.

The $350,000 expansion will double the size of the lab inside the facility and will allow Syngenta's lab in Nampa, Idaho, to focus on quality control for the growing seed crops of sugar beets and sunflowers, which aren't processed in Pasco, he said.

Lydig Construction of Kennewick is expected to have the lab ready in mid-January, Lane said. Once it is, Syngenta will mail less seed to its Nampa lab for testing, and more of the quality control tests will be done on site.

The company decided to open a processing plant in the Pasco Processing Center off of Industrial Way because of the available acreage, the water supply, good growing conditions and the highly experienced farmers in the area, Lane said.

The Pasco seed processing plant is unique because it prepares sweet corn seeds, which are considered large seeds, along with small seeds like tomato, pepper, watermelon, broccoli, cauliflower and squash, Lane said.

In one year, the Pasco facility may process between 1.6 million to 1.8 million kilos of sweet corn seed. Lane said it also processes about 260,000 kilos of the small seeds.

Right now, the company employs about 100 full-time employees and contract workers year- round. Lane said Syngenta may add positions with the lab expansion.

Sweet corn is the only seed crop that arrives at the Pasco plant straight from Columbia Basin fields. The other seeds are grown and then shipped to Pasco from other countries, such as Venezuela, Thailand and China.

Syngenta contracts with Columbia Basin farmers for sweet corn for seed, Lane said. The farmers then will plant the male and female seeds together, and they cross-pollinate to form the desired hybrid.

That sweet corn will start to dry in the field. Then, it is harvested, and the ears -- covered in the husks -- are brought to the Pasco facility. Lane said the husks are removed, and then the ears are placed in the corn dryer.

The goal is to have the ears in the dryer within six hours from when they were harvested, he said. That's important to make sure the desired characteristics are preserved.

The cobs then are shelled to remove the kernels, resulting in bulk seed, Lane said.

Harvest tends to last for about six weeks in September and October, Lane said.

The seeds are then run through a seed conditioning process. The seeds move over three screens that are angled to form a backward "Z." The debris and small seeds fit through the screens, which act like a sieve, leaving behind the good, large seeds.

The seeds then are moved across gravity decks, where air blows, causing the seeds to hover, Lane said. A small flap diverts the lighter weight seeds into a chute, and the higher quality seeds then flow into storage bins.

All of the seeds are tested for quality, Lane said. Batches that may include too many small or broken seeds, or may have gotten field corn seeds in as well, will run over belts to be hand-sorted by workers, Lane said.

Syngenta workers also add treatments to the seeds, depending on what customers order, Lane said. Their customers are the dealers who will sell the seeds to farmers.

Between fungicides, herbicides and other protection for the seed, there are more than 130 different possible treatment recipes, he said. What is needed depends on the climate and conditions of the area where the seeds will be planted as well as grower preference.

Most of the sweet corn seed is sold in the United States, he said. About 45 percent of the sweet corn seed is exported from the Pasco plant, and about 17 percent of the small seeds also are exported. Areas that import Syngenta seeds include France, parts of Europe, Latin America and South America.

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