Sunday, June 26, 2005

RMRS Public Affairs: Planting Time: "What's the allure? Like gold, seeds hold the promise of payback.
Bermant first saw that promise back in 1978, as a student at
Utah State University. Congress had just passed a law requiring
coal mines to reclaim - and replant - their diggings. The mining
companies needed seeds, and Bermant, who was studying range management,
knew where to find them. He rounded up a few fellow students,
directed them to ripened stands of grasses and shrubs, and promised
to pay by the pound for any seeds they collected. Soon, he had
a small team of college kids beating the bushes - literally -
with tennis rackets and brooms, knocking millions of tiny seeds
into bags and onto dropcloths, for drying, cleaning and sale.

Names out of Mermant's botany textbooks became inventory items
for his budding business: bottlebrush squirreltail (Elymus elymoides),
muttongrass (Poa fendleriana), bluebunch wheatgrass (Elymus spicatus),
skeleton buckwheat (Eriogonum deflexum), coyote tobacco (Nicotiana
attenuata), mountain hawksbeard (Crepis acuminata), broom snakeweed
(Gutierrezia sarothrae).

'I've always been kind of an entrepreneur,' says
Bermant, who now owns the biggest seed-distributing company in
the West. His company, Granite Seed Co., is located just outside
of Lehi, an agricultural town sandwiched between Salt Lake City
and Provo, in the shadow of the Wasatch Mountains. Bermant won't
say how much he's worth, but his three large warehouses currently
shelter 3 million pounds of seed, from both exotic and native
plants. Last year, he sold 5 million pounds of seed mix to the
federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to rehabilitate land burned
by the Rodeo-Chediski Fire on the White Mountain Apache Reservation
in Arizona. Half of that was native seed, and some of it, such
as antelope bitterbrush, can fetch as much as $40 per pound."

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