Co-op Member Spotlight: Golden Valley Farms

Duane Ditchen, Golden Valley Farms

Farming is a family affair for longstanding Wilco co-op member, Golden Valley Farms. While the Ditchen Family has been farming in Oregon’s Willamette Valley for over 100 years, twin brothers Duane and Darrin Ditchen, and cousin Eric, are the third generation currently managing a sprawling operation that includes growing grass seed, hazelnuts and other rotational crops in Silverton and Hermiston, Oregon.

The current operation, started in the 1940’s after Carl Ditchen, father of David and Eldon, branched off to farm on his own from his parents and brothers, looks quite a bit different than the early days of farming, which included livestock (pigs, chicken, cattle), in addition to crops. “My grandfather, Carl Ditchen, was always trying to buy land to continue to farm for the future, which is the same mindset that my dad and uncle continued with, strategically growing in fields close by, to keep us more efficient,” Duane said. Duane’s dad, David, and uncle, Eldon, are still part of the operation, loving driving tractors and swathers as needed, but it’s their sons that are growing the business today.

Duane, along with his wife Shauna and their two kids Ethan and Ella, live and work on what has become one of the largest grass seed farms in Silverton, OR. They predominately grow Tall Fescue and Perennial Ryegrass, with rotation crops of crimson and red clover, wheat and oats, white and red radish and coriander for seed, and field corn. “We’re always trying to get back to sod quality grass seed for the high-end market, striving to get our seed on the immaculate golf courses and sport fields across the country,” Duane said.

This means maximizing efficiencies where they can. Growing aspects of irrigation to make it simpler, easier and more efficient, like installing pivot lines that can be started by Duane’s phone and adding automation at their seed plant with a palletizer, automatic bagger and a blending line, have all contributed in their ability to ship more seed. “It’s a delicate balance of investing in equipment and thoroughly utilizing it to make the overall operation more efficient and ultimately get more product through in a shorter amount of time,” Duane emphasized.

He is involved in all aspects of the farming operations, including the seed and straw side of the business. Although he is not directly managing them on a daily basis, he’s always part of the big picture direction of each operation, managed by longtime employees who keep the seed warehouse and straw facility running smoothly. “I always set goals for myself, and figure you can do a lot and potentially do it poorly, or get more focused and do it more efficiently to become more profitable,” Duane said. “Our mentality is to grow within,” he added. As an example, after investing in blending line equipment, they have grown exponentially in the amount of seed they blend for Turf Merchant International (TMI) to grow and maximize their investment.

Golden Valley Farms has always been evolving and growing, including a short stint farming land in Alaska, but real growth happened when they expanded to Eastern Oregon to raise onions, which led to them buying a farm in the early 90’s. Duane’s twin brother Darrin currently oversees the Eastern Oregon Division in Hermiston where their main focus is Perennial Ryegrass and Bluegrass. They also grow blueberries at this location. In 2017 they diversified by adding Golden Valley Hazelnuts to the mix, which Eric Ditchen, one of Eldon’s sons, owns and operates.

When looking at all divisions of the large, multi-generational farm, 70 full-time employees and an additional 20-25 seasonal employees, including the fourth generation of Ditchen kids, help keep the operation running smoothly. “We have a wonderful crew at the farm,” Duane said. This has allowed him to be able to coach his son’s baseball team since he was 5-years-old, which this year adds the title of Salem Academy High School Assistant Baseball Coach to his list of responsibilities, and is also the school where he and his wife Shauna met in High School. Duane went on to receive a Bachelor of Science degree in Crop and Soil Science from Oregon State University.

“I really enjoy farming because it’s something you can do with your family. I love in the summertime having my son and daughter in the field with me all day and am close with my kids because I work by their side,” Duane said. He recalls at a young age knowing he wanted to be a farmer. “I started to weed onions at age 6 and have never missed a summer in the fields since then,” Duane said. He emphasized that the salt-of-the-earth people are one of the best things about farming. “The people in farming and the way of life are hard to beat,” Duane added. “I have a sense of pride in putting in a hard day’s work and seeing the results of that, no matter how challenging creating something can be.”