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Marie Elizabeth Pick

(1913 – 1986)

Inducted in 2019

Nominated by: Martin Pick, Retired Executive of the Pickseed Group of Companies
Specialty: Crops – Seeds

When Otto Pick died suddenly in 1959, Marie, along with her two sons Tom and Martin assumed operation of the business. Marie’s steady financial management resulted in fiscal stability and strong balance sheets, a vital fact in enabling strong and aggressive expansion. In 1960, activity expanded to include seed purchases and contracting in Manitoba. The strong financial condition of the company projected confidence with these large and sophisticated western seed growers.

The company was also developing a major presence with the sod production and turfgrass industry in eastern Canada. Some of these participants depended on their suppliers providing capital. Marie maintained oversight on these large and sometimes tenuous accounts. In 1970, the company established Pickseed West in Oregon, the world’s largest seed production region. Recently the combined companies supplied the seed for the football pitches for the South Africa, Brazilian and Russian World Cup tournaments. Over this period the company grew to be the largest company in this field in Canada and among the top 5 globally.

Marie Pick steadfastly insisted on excellent customer service coupled with a strong financial base enabling the future investment by the company in added acquisitions and building a strong research and development level of activity. Today the company operates the only industry-based research and development forage program in Canada.

In 2013, DFL Trifolium, a Danish seed company and the world’s leader in this field acquired the Pickseed Group of Companies.

Marie Pick’s hard work in those early years gave the company the solid roots enabling growth through expansion and acquisition. Her development of qualified administrative staff gave confidence in the bold moves that let the company to become a powerhouse in the Canadian seed industry.

The Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame proudly welcomes Marie Elizabeth Pick as a 2019 Inductee.

Marie Elizabeth Pick (1913 – 1986) Inducted in 2019 Origin: Nominated by: Martin Pick, Retired Executive of the Pickseed Group of Companies Specialty: Crops – Seeds When Otto

Pick seed

Martin PICK
Pickseed Companies Group

Joined Otto Pick & Sons Seeds Ltd in 1958. In March 1959 Otto Pick died and with brother Tom Pick and mother Marie Pick continued the work started in 1947 by Otto.
In 1960 established Pickseed’s presence in Manitoba, buying certified forage seed directly from producers. Continued growing the Pickseed business with Tom throughout 60’s, 70’s. Joined with Kent Wiley Jr. and Tom Pick to establish Pickseed West Inc in Tangent, OR- right in the heart of the Willamette Valley.
Served as President of the Canadian Seed Trade Association 1991-92.
Today the Pickseed Companies Group is a leading forage seed and turfgrass company throughout North America and internationally.
Currently serving as Vice-Chairman of the Pickseed Companies Group.

What does the seed industry look like today from your vantage point?

The seed industry is much more stratified with distinct activities.
In the 50’s & 60’s forage and turfgrass were the dominant seed industry sectors. Today that no longer is the case with annual crops capturing a much higher profile. The seed business, like agriculture, has become consolidated and is a much more B to B environment.
Furthermore the role of government as plant breeders, extension advisors, etc. has diminished with industry too taking up these functions.

From your perspective, what are currently the major issues, significant challenges and key opportunities in your sector of the Canadian seed industry?

The Forage & Turf seed industry has become somewhat minimized in the headlong rush towards biotechnology. While herbicide tolerant, transformed forages and grasses are in the wings, their use and resultant payback to the technology owners is undetermined. The industry-wide obsession with GMO issues has paralyzed industry spokespersons from dealing with some very crucial day-to-day issues. For example the subsidized grass seed production from the European Union is tantamount to dumping. Other industries would be pounding on their respective governments to be of assistance. The issue barely gets a nod from industry associations. The issue of variety registration in Canada has been in a state of animated suspension for the past 2-3 years and again industry has to deal with this example of beauraucratic lethargy in isolation.
A major challenge (opportunity) would be to return to a level, international playing field. Canada has some of the best forage and turfgrass seed production opportunities, cheap land, outstanding growers, a highly modernized infrastructure enabling Canadian production to be very low cost to the world – without artificial stimulus. The opportunity is there. The challenge is to get the issues on the political table.

How do recent developments in the global seed industry impact your company and other seed companies in your country?

I have made reference to the issue of EU subsidies.
The detritus of the ABT meltdown is still impacting our industry with undisciplined seed contracts still overfilling the market requirement; the overall destruction of pre-ABT orderly marketing operations have to be seen out.
These factors have had a significant and negative impact on the forage and turfgrass segment of the seeds industry.

What has been the impact of ag biotech so far in your sector of the industry, and what further short term developments do you anticipate?

As mentioned the perennial crops have been among the last to attract the attention of the technology providers and even then there is a lack of consensus on how these providers will extract what they consider to be their fair price.
There was some concern of contamination by the “adventitious presence” of GMO in small seeded forages but this issue seems to have faded. In the eastern half of North America herbicide tolerant forages still seem to be a solution looking for a problem until herbicide tolerant grasses also become available to companion the legume(s).

Which other technologies do you see having significant impact on the seed industry, and what changes are they bringing about?

Corn rootworn BT must be significant in that it also signals continued use of this technology rather than harsh, risky pesticides. Any time pesticides can be replaced should be viewed as positive. As an aside it fascinates me to hear anti-GMO advocates rail against the use of this science, when the same individuals were posturing against pesticides 1-2 decades ago.
However, I have recently read Charles Daniel’s “Lords of the Harvest” and he seems to conclude that, until the development of some directly bankable benefits to the actual consumer are available from this science, progress and acceptance may be limited.

How much impact will the new American and European organic produce legislation have in your country?

It seems that the “growth” of consumer acceptance of organic has plateaued.
Producing quality “organic” forage seeds, particularly legumes, is very difficult and expensive.
How much is the consumer prepared to pay to be able to consume “organic”. How much can the “organic” dairy or meat producer pay for seeds and other cost of production inputs until they hit the market / price wall?

Where do you see your sector of the seed industry going in the next 5 to 10 years?

The North American forage seed market has shrunk significantly over the past decade. Some players have already withdrawn, and more consolidations and/or closures will continue until the industry fits the market. There are some real environmental opportunities, which will require a political will for their manifestation, but that will eventually occur.
The turf grass market is a dynamic one and once the ABT repercussions are digested one would hope this market and production too will meet the real needs. This sector too will likely reduce in numbers. New varieties will turn over very rapidly and it will become increasingly important to establish unique products in the market. “Me-too” varieties become commodities and cannot support their marketing costs. Costs of operations of sports facilities will become important criteria; recently a well-known golf course industry member chose dwarf blues over bent for fairways. He reckons that bents have a 3x maintenance cost over the blues.
Developing products to meet the agronomic, as well as the budgetary needs of the consumer will become important again.

What are your hopes and aspirations for the future of the seed industry?

The seed industry is a key part of agriculture. Therefore, the entire ag community must consider the impact of trade-distorting subsidies, support programs, etc. This is true in the seed industry too. Give the industry a level playing field and the strongest plant breeders, producers and marketers will prosper. The minute a contrived artifact enters the equation the skews become extreme.
I would also appreciate the development of quick, reliable seed ID technology to enable plant breeders to readily defend their intellectual property and discourage the rash of plagiarism that currently exists in OP crops.

What important lessons have you learned during your years in the seed industry?
Developing strong relationships with customers (and I view growers and users both as customers) is crucial to success.
Selling crop varieties on a “features / benefits” platform and assuring a reasonable reward for your own efforts is crucial to assure the success of your customer’s and your own enterprises.

Could you please tell us about an individual in the seed industry whom you have found particularly inspirational?

This is easy. Mr. Tib Szego of Lindsay, Ontario, now retired, is the most visionary person I have known in this industry. He established the idea of “proprietary varieties” in North America; he established the first private plant breeding program in Canada and he could foresee developments throughout his entire career.
Tib came to Canada just before WW II, first working for the McKenzie Seed Co., in Brandon, Manitoba. For the longest time he lead the seed department of Maple Leaf Mills from Lindsay, Ontario, a forage, turf and seed corn enterprise. He then set up National NK Seeds, the precursor to the NK presence in Canada. Following that he acted as a broker and eventually retired in Lindsay. He is still a great source of seed industry lore and a strong sounding board on this segment of the industry.

Pick seed Martin PICK Vice-Chairman Pickseed Companies Group Canada Joined Otto Pick & Sons Seeds Ltd in 1958. In March 1959 Otto Pick died and with brother Tom Pick and mother Marie