Business

Fir tree seed farm could sprout at Greenbank Farm

Amidst the community garden, farmer training center and the loganberry bushes, a business is looking to add a tree seed farm on a large swath of land at the Greenbank Farm.

A group of companies from Canada wants to lease land at the publicly owned farm to grow Douglas fir trees and eventually harvest their seeds.

Brian Saunders, representing the groups Island Timberlands and Select Seed Company, which are based on Vancouver Island, attended a recent Port of Coupeville meeting to discuss plans for the fir tree “orchards.” He compared the project to an apple orchard, only the cones and seeds will be collected.

The Greenbank Farm has 40-acres of land near Highway 525 and an additional 15 acres in a triangle-shaped piece of property near Wonn Road.

Saunders said the group doesn’t need exclusive use of the property. However, there will be several times throughout the year where people won’t be allowed in due to harvesting and spraying to control insects.

“We’re not going to put up a fence and keep people out,” Saunders said.

The commissioners for the Port of Coupeville didn’t made any decision whether to allow the orchard at the Greenbank Farm. Commissioner Marshall Bronson said he wants to see more information first.

“We have too many variables coming out of the air,” Bronson said during the May 12 meeting.

In the coming weeks, Port of Coupeville and Greenbank Farm Management group officials will be researching the orchard proposal in time for the Port of Coupeville’s June 9 meeting.

Port Executive Director Jim Patton said he has already been hearing from critics who prefer seeing the property near Highway 525 remain an open field.

Patton also has to find out how the orchard would affect the organic fields that are currently being used by the Community Supported Agriculture program, the market garden and the pea patch. He said the seed company intends to use pesticides on the trees and there has to be an adequate buffer between the orchard and the organic lands. However, he has to find out how the high-speed winds that buffet Whidbey Island would impact the project and nearby organic fields.

“We will not do anything that would jeopardize the organic certification,” Patton said. He talked with the Department of Agriculture and discovered that a minimum 25-foot buffer would have to be maintained. If the land for the orchard loses its organic certification, it would take three years to reestablish.

The port commissioners also want to know how much value should be placed on the property to make it worthwhile and they also want to know whether the companies that want to grow the orchard are viable enough to sustain the project.

In addition, Bronson also questioned whether the Greenbank Farm had enough water available to accommodate the additional trees.

Patton said he hopes to have a report ready by the June 9 meeting, however it could be delayed to July.

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