Friday, Oct. 10, 2003
Bob Doerfler, Oregon’s largest grass seed grower, dies
By JOHN SCHMITZ
SALEM—Bob Doerfler of Sublimity, Oregon’s largest grass seed grower, died suddenly Oct. 7 at Salem Hospital while awaiting prostrate surgery. He was 66.
Known as a visionary and an industry icon who was not afraid to speak his mind, Doerfler is credited with showing grass seed growers that they can earn more money marketing seed themselves. While he dealt with almost every seed company in Oregon, he also marketed public varieties through Doerfler Farms.
Some of those interviewed expressed astonishment that Doerfler had been seen at a benefit auction in Stayton on Saturday.
Doerfler learned the grass seed industry from his father, Leonard. The farm will continue operations under his twin sons, Kevin and Kent.
“I think he understood the importance of (farm) size early on, and developed a large, integrated farm operation that probably was the prototype of what the industry is becoming, “ said Tangent grass seed grower George Pugh, co-owner of Ampac Seed. Pugh said Doerfler’s operation was so large that it included seed fields in the Cascades. He talked about how high the elevations were and it was kind of amazing to me, a flatlander, operating at 225 feet,” Pugh said.
Like many in the industry, Pugh said he had heard Doerfler was ill. “I don’t think any of us realized the end was this close. It was sad when we heard about it because he wasn’t that old and pursued things with a lot of vigor,” he said. “When he had an idea bout marketing or what the seed council should be doing, or if he saw a political direction he thought needed pursing, he would take it on and work it hard.”
Doerfler was known throughout the industry for the numerous foreign flags he had flying on his farm, each one representing a country he did business with. “It was quite a showcase,” Pugh said. “The last few years, whenever we had foreign visitors (form China, Mexico and South America) under the seed council’s Market Access Program, the tour quite often included his operation.”
“Bob was literally a giant in this industry,” said Oregro seed breeder and co-owner Matt Herb. “He worked with just about every (seed dealer) here, and he’s probably grown dang near every variety that’s ever been. He was the mainstay of the Highland bentgrass industry.”Herb and his brother Don, Oregro general manager and co-owner, knew the Doerflers well, Matt said. “Our family has known him for 40 years.” Doerfler used to grow seed for Don Herb when Herb was general manager of Normarc Seed Co., now Barenbrug, in Tangent.
“Bob definitely had an opinion and he wasn’t afraid to voice it, especially when it came to farmers’ rights and marketing,” Matt Herb said.
Estimates of the size of Doerfler’s operations are somewhat sketchy, but those interviewed put it at between 15,000 to 20,000 acres.
“He was a huge grower in Marion and northern Linn counties and that encompasses a large area,” said Leah Nelson of the Oregon Seed Council. Nelson’s husband, Dave, OSC executive secretary who knew Doerfler for years, could not be reached for comment before the Capital Press deadline.
Doerfler wasn’t shy when it came to buying equipment and owned more iron than just about all of the implement dealers in the Willamette Valley combined.
“It was huge. He had 50 to 60 combines, same number of swathers,” said Herb. “Except for the cannery (Norpac Foods) he was one of the largest employers in the Stayton-Sublimity area. In the summertime he’d have over 100 people out there working.” Herb said Doerfler also gave many area high school students a chance to work in the summer, helping with the harvest.
A requiem mass will be said at 2 p.m. Oct. 10 at Immaculate Conception Church in Stayton. The public interment will be held after mass at St. Boniface Cemetery in Sublimity, followed by a reception at the Oregon Garden in Silverton.