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A rich agricultural history

Path in Talent may honor crops of the past
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A Talent alfalfa seed bag hangs at the Talent Historical Society on Friday.Julia Moore
 Posted: 2:00 AM August 17, 2013

TALENT — An alfalfa developed here that bore the town's name was popular for several decades with growers in the Northwest and in Greece for its output, hardiness and resistance to pests.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, the Talent Growers' Association marketed seed under the "Talent Alfalfa" name. It was certified by the state, said John Yungen, a retired agronomist who still volunteers his time with the Oregon State University agricultural experiment station.

A proposal to create a section of historical Talent agricultural plants along a path in Chuck Roberts Park might include the alfalfa, orchard trees and the Talent Tomato.

"It was important as a hay crop here," said Yungen. "A number of those farmers were also growing for seed. They were getting a premium price."

Most of the certified seed not used by local growers or in the Willamette Valley or western Washington was sold to the Greek government, which found it worked well in that country's environment, said Yungen,

While not involved in the development, Yungen oversaw maintenance of station alfalfa fields starting in the mid-1950s. The experiment station was then located in Talent on fields where school district ballparks now sit next to Colver Road.

"It was very quick to recover after cutting for hay," said Yungen. "You could get four cuttings, sometimes five with irrigation."

Talent Historical Society has a seed sack that displays the name and the association's logo, an American Indian warrior. The society also has a brochure used to promote the seed, certification tags that were attached to the bag and an eight-page 1952 Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin that discusses test results and history of the crop.

Work to find a better alfalfa for the local area began in 1936 when the station found that seed imported from Provence, France showed promising qualities.

Test plots planted in the late '40s and monitored for several years showed superior results for the Talent seed compared with other types. It also showed resistance to the nematode pest, a miniscule worm which plagued the roots of local plants.

"Not many varieties have resistance to that and other root diseases that bother alfalfa," said Yungen. At one time the valley had more than 9,000 acres in alfalfa, he said.

The seed faded in popularity when other varieties were developed, a not uncommon occurrence in agriculture, Yungen explained.

"My dad would only grow Talent Alfalfa on our farm in Phoenix. He thought it was the best," said Larry Smith of Jacksonville. "It was hearty, grew three cuttings each summer and was a local product."

Smith said his father, Elmer, never tried for a fourth cutting, fearing that then-prevalent early June rains would ruin a crop. Smith recalls working with his brother to mix the seed with a nitrogen fertilizer, then using hand-cranked spreaders to cover 5 acres.

A last bunch of seed was given to a Grant Pass farmers' co-op in the 1980s, said Pamela Grove of Talent, who has some of that seed.

An attempt to sprout the seed last year failed, but Grove says her lack of attention to it may have contributed. She's going to try again and Yungen predicts that some of the seeds should sprout despite their age.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at

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