by Mitch Lies

From left to right: Neal, Pamela, daugther Lauren Lucht

From left to right: Neal, Pamela, daugther Lauren Lucht

For Pamela Lucht, providing leadership to community and agricultural organizations is a family tradition.

Pamela, administrative manager for the family’s business, Northwest Transplants in Molalla, has served as treasurer on several boards and committees over the years, including six years as the Molalla FFA Alumni Chapter’s treasurer.

Recently, she took over as treasurer for Oregon Aglink.

“(Oregon Aglink Executive Director) Geoff Horning asked me if I would do it, and I said yes, because there was a need and I believe in what Oregon Aglink is doing,” Pamela said.

Her commitment to Oregon Aglink adds to the Lucht family’s legacy of leadership that dates back to Charlie Lucht, father of her husband, Neal.

Neal, president of the Oregon FFA Foundation and chairman of the Molalla River School District’s Board of Directors, tells a story about how he once asked Charlie why he participated in so many boards and committees.

“He looked at me incredulously and said: ‘Who else would you have do it?’ Leadership happens,” Neal said. “If the right people don’t choose to, the wrong people will. There is never an option for no leadership.’”

In addition to serving as treasurer of Oregon Aglink, Pamela and her farm participate in the organization’s popular Adopt a Farmer program.

“The Adopt a Farmer program is relatively new to us,” Pamela said, “and we are really excited about it.”

“My favorite thing is just seeing the kids get engaged and ask questions, and seeing the lightbulb come on when they start to understand the process,” said Neal and Pamela’s daughter, Lauren, who is the marketing director for Northwest Transplants.

“It is really fun to see that lightbulb come on,” added Neal, “to see that connection that somebody actually grows everything I eat.”

“I hope we are inspiring some entrepreneurship among some of those kids, too,” Pamela said.

That spirit of entrepreneurship has long been present in Northwest Transplants. The business started with just 11 greenhouses when Neal and Pamela purchased it from the Lucht family’s Crestview Farms in 1990.

Today Northwest Transplants operates 92 greenhouses, moving about 80 million seedlings a year through the operation.

The business’s origin came from the realization that the transplant technology they provide offers many benefits to producers, especially as the industry and consumer needs began to change.

“When I was growing up, we worked with transplants, but typically in old technologies,” Neal said. “We’d looked at other areas of the country and appreciated how they utilized their greenhouse plug-tray plants for field planting. But the management and production logistics had never really been thought out for the production of a variety of crops in our temperate climate.”

The farm sought advice from Oregon State Extension advisors and others, but found that no one had answers.

“They told us we really just couldn’t do it here,” Neal said. “So we spent three years working on solving the program of what combination of greenhouse management and technologies could be made into a commercial seedling production venture. We developed some of our own concepts on climate modification and greenhouse management to fit our economic resource of a seasonal climate.”

“Now we grow over 300 varieties of crops each year,” Lauren said, “including everything from medicinal herbs, such as stinging nettle, to traditional cold crops and crops that thrive in specific environments, like peppers and sweet potato.”

Although Northwest Transplants operates solely on a contract basis, its business model includes much more than simply taking orders from farmers.

“Many times we have to look at what growing trends are out there. How might we impact those crop systems for the future? What technologies can we bring with our ability to control climate to affect the outcome of that particular crop and affect its profitability?” Neal said.

“We do our research, and many times take it to our customers,” he added. ‘We are constantly managing our relationships with our customers, rather than just sitting back and waiting for a contract. We’ve always tried to stay focused on how can we grow the success of a particular grower and improve profitability on their farm.”

Northwest Transplants works with about 200 growers, both large and small, Neal said. The farm produces plugs in unique soil mixtures that are tailored for individual crops. The ingredients in their blends are sourced from all over the world. The organic mixture they produce, for example, calls for peat moss from Northeast Canada, vermiculite from South Africa or China, and another ingredient, which Neal wouldn’t reveal, from Northwest Canada.

Northwest Transplants today is in the process of completing what Neal described as the final phase of maxing out the capacity of the operation’s existing 20-acre site. The family farm recently purchased a 100-acre site across the street from its operation, which the family plans to use, at least in part, for production agriculture.

One thing certain to be in the mix for the Lucht family’s future is a continued emphasis on providing leadership to community and agricultural organizations.

“We are just really passionate about giving back,” said Lauren, who is a member of Oregon Aglink’s Adopt a Farmer Committee. “If you have the capability to lead, we believe you have the responsibility.”