You won't find anyone at Evergreen Agricultural Enterprises complaining about the recession these days.
That's because the company, a subsidiary of Evergreen International Aviation, continues to grow its operations in the face of economic uncertainty.
EAE has a diverse crop portfolio, which includes winegrapes, hazelnuts, blueberries, Christmas trees, grains and an ornamental nursery.
In addition to expanding most of the crops, EAE also plans on adding processing facilities in the near future.
The driving force behind EAE's success is 82-year-old Del Smith, a former crop duster who in 1960 founded Evergreen International Aviation, the company that brought Howard Hughes's famed "Spruce Goose" to Oregon in 1995.
EAE, the agricultural subsidiary, was added in 1972.
"Mr. Smith basically wants expansion," said EAE president Brian Crowe, who's been with the company 20 years. "He's always bought one to two farms (a year). This year he bought two farms, one with 750 acres and one with 40."
In both cases, the properties purchased in 2012 were bare root nurseries in St. Paul and Monmouth that are now undergoing extreme makeovers with different goals in mind.
"We're planting blueberries and hazelnuts on that ground," Crowe said.
EAE has nearly 9,000 acres in ag production, with 10,000-plus as the goal the next few years. Eventually, most of the crops grown will also be processed by the company, making EAE one of the most diversified, vertically integrated ag concerns on the West Coast.
According to Crowe, most of the operations have been performing well, especially blueberries and hazelnuts.
"We're already the largest individual hazelnut grower (3,000 acres) out there," said Crowe. "Half of those are producing, the other half are (Jefferson variety) trees one to three years old."
"It's very exciting to see our largest grower taking that huge leap into more (hazelnut) acreage," said Polly Owen, who manages several hazelnut organizations, including the Oregon Hazelnut Commission.
EAE's ornamental nursery operation encompasses around 150 acres a few miles north of Salem.
"It's been pretty stagnant since the fall-off in housing," Crowe said. "But it's starting to come back. I'm seeing a lot more sales and growth."
Evergreen Nursery will be venturing into new territory this year when it replaces a grass seed field next to the nursery with pot-in-pot, drip irrigated production, which will make field harvests much smoother during the rainy shipping season.
"(Pot-in-pot) makes life a lot simpler and cleaner," Crowe said. "There's one thing about Mr. Smith: He likes everything clean."
The next few years will continue to see expansion projects as EAE plans, among other things, to build a winery next to its aviation museum and adding 2,000 acres of hazelnuts and 700 acres of blueberries.
"Evergreen has certainly been a part of the rapid growth we've seen in (blueberries) in the Oregon production landscape," said Bryan Ostlund, Oregon Blueberry Commission administrator. "They're one of the first production companies to want to jump into the new South Korea program."
Plans for the near future also call for the construction of a hazelnut processing plant in McMinnville to handle kernel varieties, and a blueberry processing plant near St. Paul, Ore.
EAE owns and operates a hazelnut nursery, where it raises young, field-ready trees that have first been micropropagated and then grown to a few inches tall.
Crowe estimated that since the economy started going south in 2008, EAE has been going the other direction at a growth clip of around 40 percent, most of that generated by newly planted crops like blueberries and hazelnuts coming into production.
By JOHN SCHMITZ
For the Capital Press