CRITES SEED, INC. About

Our History The First 30 Years

First as manager of a vegetable canning company in Ohio and then later as a seedsman based in North Dakota, Willis Crites witnessed the extreme yield and quality variability of seed peas produced in the Midwest. Ever the optimist, he came to view this as a potential opportunity—an opportunity to be captured if he could locate an agricultural region in the United States better suited for seed pea production than the Heartland.

In 1930, Crites’s search took him to the Palouse, a scenic landscape of rolling hills and fertile soils stretching across portions of Southeastern Washington and North Central Idaho. Although the Palouse historically had been devoted to grain production, Crites suspected that the soil and climate were ideally suited for seed peas. To test his hypothesis, he needed the support of a few prominent Palouse farmers who would be willing to give peas a try. His idea resonated with a group of “big field” growers from the areas around Moscow, Idaho, and Tekoa, Washington, and in 1933 he and nine of those growers formed a cooperative, Crites-Moscow Growers, Inc., to produce, process, and market pea seed.

The initial board of directors of Crites-Moscow Growers established two prime objectives: (1) to build a state-of-the-art seed processing and storage facility in Moscow, and (2) to develop a superior line of canning peas. They completed construction of the processing plant and warehouse in 1936 and introduced Superlaska, a high-yielding canner pea variety, in 1937. Superlaska’s broad acceptance launched the young company on a steep growth trajectory. The customer list grew rapidly from 15 canners to more than 50, while annual seed production expanded from 2 million to 5 million pounds.

Then, tragically, Willis Crites passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in 1943 at age 57. The company had lost its visionary and charismatic leader, but Merle Stubbs, the Research Director, ably stepped into the General Manager position, and he, along with Production Manager A.E. Koster and a dedicated, forward-looking board of directors, successfully guided the company through the remainder of the decade. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, Crites-Moscow Growers continued to grow in importance as a supplier of pea seed primarily serving the Midwest and East Coast canning industry.

Milestones Since 1965

1967

Tom Druffel joined Crites

Tom Druffel joined Crites as a field representative. He retired 40 years later, after having served as Assistant General Manager, General Manager, and Chief Executive Officer—all the while maintaining day-to-day responsibility for western sales. Through his unwavering commitment to and belief in Crites, Tom left an indelible mark on the company. Following his retirement, he took a seat on the company's board of directors.

1975

Crites acquired the assets of Western Valley Seed Co.

Crites acquired the assets of Western Valley Seed Co. The purchase included several freezer pea lines, including the variety Scout. Prior to acquiring Western Valley, Crites handled only canner varieties. Access to freezer pea varieties, and especially to Scout, allowed the company to expand its market in the Western U.S. and to gain a foothold in Europe.

1978

Agreement with Royal Sluis, a prominent Dutch vegetable seed company

To help build its European sales, Crites entered into a marketing agreement with Royal Sluis, a prominent Dutch vegetable seed company founded in 1868. Royal Sluis agreed to represent selected Crites varieties in England and on the Continent.

1984

Processing plant replaced

The half-century-old Moscow processing plant, a wooden structure, was razed and replaced with a modern concrete and steel facility. Both the processing and seed treating lines were totally updated.

1996

Acquired exclusive North American marketing rights

Crites acquired exclusive North American marketing rights for the snap bean varieties of Pop Vriend Seeds, a leading Dutch vegetable seed breeder, producer, and wholesaler.

1999

Research center constructed in Moscow

To support its expanding breeding program, the company constructed the Moscow Research Center—including a greenhouse, warehouse, offices, and workrooms.

1999

Lease-purchase agreement for property near Quincy

The company concluded a lease-purchase agreement for a 10-acre parcel of land near Quincy, Washington, on the western edge of the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project. The property contained a large steel-clad onion shed that Crites converted into a pea processing and storage facility. This major investment was prompted by the gradual shift of a major portion of the company's contracted seed pea acreage from the dryland Palouse to the irrigated Columbia Basin. The Quincy site presented the additional advantage of being close to several important processor customers.

2001

Alliance with ProGene

Crites entered into a working agreement with ProGene Plant Research of Othello, Washington, to handle Pro-Gene's dry edible pea stock seed for the Pacific Northwest. The companies later expanded Crites's role to include supplying both stock and commercial seed of ProGene dry pea varieties throughout the entire United States. In 2002 they began cooperating on research. The Crites-ProGene alliance also embraces ProGene's breeding partner, Plant Research (NZ) Ltd., based in Canterbury, New Zealand. The three companies collaborate to bring high quality dry green pea varieties—Ariel, Aragorn, and Banner among them—to the world food market.

2001

Diversifying into Sweet Corn

The company began marketing sweet corn by forming an alliance with Snowy River Seeds, an Australian corn seed breeder. Snowy River wished to expand its U.S. market, while Crites wanted to augment its product line. The partnership produced dramatic results. By 2010, the Snowy River variety Prelude had become the predominant sugary sweet corn genotype in the Northwest processing market.

2008

Crites Seed, Inc., a C corporation

After operating as a cooperative for 65 years, Crites-Moscow Growers, Inc. was renamed and restructured, becoming Crites Seed, Inc., a C corporation.

2009

Agreement between Crites and Townsend Seeds International Ltd.

Crites Seed and Townsend Seeds International of Christchurch, New Zealand, completed a distribution agreement granting Townsend exclusive sales rights to Crites garden pea varieties in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, North Africa, Pakistan and India. Townsend also serves as an integral part of the Crites supply chain by offering counter-season production capability.

2010

Began producing Pop Vriend bean varieties

Crites began producing—in addition to marketing—Pop Vriend bean varieties while simultaneously conducting its own breeding effort that complements the Pop Vriend program by focusing on large-sieve lines. The company constructed a new greenhouse at the Quincy complex to support both bean and pea breeding.

2012

Crites Seed and Elsoms Seeds Alliance

Crites Seed and Elsoms Seeds, the U.K.'s leading independent seed specialist and plant breeder, formed an alliance that grants Elsoms exclusive rights to distribute and produce Crites varieties in the U.K.

2013

Strube GmbH Granted Exclusive Distribution and Production

Strube GmbH (renamed Strube D&S GmbH in 2018) was granted exclusive distribution and production rights to Crites "vining pea" varieties for the continental EU. Strube, a European seed pioneer, was founded in 1877 as a breeder of sugar beets and wheat.

2014

Crites and Magic Seed Alliance

Crites Seed formed an alliance with Magic Seed, Inc., the company founded by Calvin Lamborn. Lamborn, a legendary plant breeder who passed away in 2017, is widely recognized as the father of the snap pea. Crites acquired exclusive distribution rights to Magic Seed's genetics for the global processing market as well as for the fresh markets of Australia and New Zealand.

2011-16

Capital Investments

The company invested heavily in its Quincy site over a period of years, mainly in support of the expanding snap bean breeding and production programs. Those investments included the following: • Sortex electronic sorter (2011) • Bean mill and dust control system (2013) • Relocated staging area and loading docks (2015) • New 36,000 sq. ft. warehouse (2016) • USC LPX2000 seed treater with NOVO system (2016)

2017

Acquiring Cimbria Sea Chromex

To enhance both its pea and chickpea processing capabilities, Crites purchased a Cimbria Sea Chromex 7-channel electronic sorter for the Moscow facility. As chickpea acreage grew dramatically on the Palouse, the company assumed a key role in stock seed maintenance for commercial processors.

2018

Crites and Progene

Crites and ProGene Plant Research further expanded their partnership, launching a joint chickpea breeding program. As part of that arrangement, ProGene's pulse breeding team established Crites's Moscow Research Center as its base of operations.