George L. Crookham visited Idaho in 1911, and began calculating the advantages of Treasure Valley for growing seeds: the Valley has mountain ranges that control strong winds, giving the Valley mild air movements beneficial to wind-pollinated crops; a dry climate with cool nights and warm days, and sufficient irrigation water.
Hot sunny days and cool night temperatures in summer stimulate plant growth, and the lack of humidity eliminates many plant diseases that prevail in other climates.
Crookhams foresight was right on target, since the Crookham Company is still in business 101 years later, producing 80 percent of the worlds sweet corn seed.
We have tried to produce sweet corn in many locations around the world and have yet to find a superior growing area and environment than the Treasure Valley. The Treasure Valley and Magic Valley of Idaho are considered one of the top three vegetable seed producing areas in the world, according to George W. Crookham, grandson of the firms founder, who is the CEO of the company based in Caldwell.
Other seed companies have entered this area, so all together the seed industry and its multipliers contribute over a billion dollars to Idahos economy, according to
Crookhams operation alone is widespread. They ship seeds to more than 100 countries, to every continent except Antarctica. About 5 percent of their production comes from land the company owns, and the rest comes from about 100 other growers. Some of their product is now grown in the Columbia Basin in Washington.
The company was founded to produce popcorn, and in 1929, they also established the Crookham Company nursery, home of an extensive research program.
In Idaho alone, nearly 200 acres are dedicated to over 1200 inbred developments and over 400 hybrid evaluations each year, according to the companys website.
With the growth of global markets for their production, Crookham Company conducts research on every continent except Antarctica.
Crookham products continue to be conventionally bred, not genetically engineered or manipulated, according to Crookham. As they have for several years, they hire high school or college students to remove tassels from four female rows of corn, so theyll be pollinated by a male row with tassels intact. Pollen from the intact tassels pollinates the silk on the female ears, yielding hybrid corn. They only harvest the female
Driving around the Valley in autumn, the fields growing corn seed look odd, with the shorter rows of corn interspersed with the tasseled corn rows.
If youve grown or eaten Bueno, Optimum, Pick Me, Symmetry, Ambrosia, Argent, Bodacious, Delectable, Earlivee, Fleet, Frosty, Honey and Cream, Incredible, Miracle, Mystique, Quickie, Sugar Buns, Trinity, How Sweet It Is, Applause, Cameo, Captivate, Celestial, Cinderella, Easy Money, Ka-Ching, Kristine, Pay Dirt, Profit or Silver Duchess corn, youve eaten Crookhams sweet corn.
Their sweet corn includes SU (sugary), SE (sugary enhancer), Synergistic (characteristics of both supersweet and sugary enhancer varieties), SH 2 (supersweets) and augmented shrunkens, a new generation of shrunken corn (kernel) types, extra juicy and tender like the SE (sugary enhanced) types.
In addition to supplying seeds for sweet corn, Crookham grows about 25 percent of the nations fresh bulb onions, and seeds for carrots. The onions, like premium potatoes produced by others, are usually exported outside Idaho.
Following my recent column on Alliums, some readers asked why they couldnt find sweet red onions any longer. Crookham said seed(s)of red onions are extremely difficult to produce and always in limited supply, (and) there is not a consistent definition of a sweet onion....
I maintain a file of 40 to 50 seed catalogs, and the only red onion seed I could find described as sweet came from the Grow Italy company. Yellow sweet onions such as Walla Walla Sweets and Candy dont store for long, so Id guess red sweets dont.
Crookham, seeing housing developments take over our best agricultural land in the valley over recent years, became concerned about the decrease of land available for food production, and helped form the Coalition for Agricultures Future (CAF) several years ago. As the population grows, demand for food increases while resources (both land and water) decrease.
CAFs website is at www.agriculturesfuture.org. Theyve done the math, and found that over 7,000 acres of farm and ranch land have been lost in this state each month to development over the past 30 years. Our food future is in growing peril, and so is that of the nation.
Margaret Lauterbach: email@example.com or write to Gardening, The Idaho Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707