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Yellow Point company picks seeds for planting forests around the world

Yellow Point Propagation in the midst of seed-collecting season
Don Pigott, owner of Yellow Point Propagation, stands in front of a 1957 seed cleaner which sorts various species of seeds by size. The sorter is still in use at the Quennell Road business. (Duck Paterson photo)


A company in Yellow Point is helping to re-seed forests in B.C. and as far away as Europe and Asia.

Don Pigott, the owner of Yellow Point Propagation on Quennell Road, has worked in forestry for more than 50 years. He spent 13 years working for MacMillan Bloedel, one year of which was when he was ‘traded’ to the Norwegian government to assist with forestry there. In 1982 Pigott started his own forestry consulting company.

Pigott collects seeds, especially seeds from coniferous and deciduous trees, as well as shrubs and wild flowers. His company collects the cones, as well as other types of seeds, from the trees, shrubs, etc., and then extracts, cleans, dries, tests, sorts and then bags them, and sells them in B.C. and internationally.

Collections are usually made from mid August until late October with the help of seasonal staff, and various methods are used.

“They are collected by climbing, from ladders, sometimes cones are harvested that squirrels have cut from branches, and for high-value species or in remote locations, they are collected by helicopter,” said Pigott.

He said the helicopter helps with seed collection over tough terrain.

“We have a inverted cone-shaped basket hanging under the helicopter and when it flies over selected trees they lower the basket over the top of the tree and as the cone is retracted the knives inside that basket cut the branches and they are collected at the bottom of it,” he said. “The helicopter lowers the basket to the ground and our staff then collects the branches and picks the cones off of them.”

A unique method is to use rifles to shoot the branches off selected trees and collect the cones from the branches when they hit the ground.

Seed processing work is done from November to April. Yellow Point Propagation has a couple of “seed orchards” for some species of coniferous trees. These orchards are comprised of parents which have been selected for fast growth or resistance to insects or disease.

One of the more important aspects of Pigott’s company is the quality control of the seeds, especially for future forests.

“Douglas fir seed from natural stands on the east coast of Vancouver Island is highly prized by Christmas tree growers in the Pacific Northwest,” Pigott said

Unfortunately, he said, natural stands of Douglas fir are disappearing due to urban sprawl and harvesting and Douglas fir stock from B.C.’s southern Interior is “very important” for seeding European forests as the species is much more drought-tolerant than the native Norway spruce. Seeds from the Shuswap region are amongst the most favourable, Pigott said.

All of the cones and seeds harvested by Yellow Point Propagation are shipped to the processing facility in Yellow Point, which is the only private processor in the province. The B.C. government, Pigott said, has a large seed processing and storage facility in Surrey where seeds used for Crown land in B.C. are stored in freezers. Forest companies also have their own seed orchards and Pigott does consulting work for many of them.

Most of the seeds used in B.C. from the orchards go into seedlings used in replanting harvested areas throughout the province.

“The seeds are genetically improved,” said Pigott. “The parents in the orchards have been selected from natural stands and tested for quality, growth, and sometimes insect or disease resistance.”

All of this is done in a co-operative program between the forest service and forest companies. Seeds that are exported to other countries are highly regulated and certified as to their origin by the federal government.

Pigott has drafted guidelines for the protection and locations of some endangered species of trees in the province, and has been under contract with the B.C. Ministry of Forests for the past 14 years to collects specific species of cones and seeds from species that are at risk or under-represented.

“After harvest, seed processing and cleaning it all goes into a provincial government storage bank … so that hopefully in the future we won’t be losing these types of forests,” said Pigott.

The company is dedicated to the authenticity of origin and the quality of the finished product. Nothing leaves the facility unless it has been fully processed and tested for quality and durability.

“We even recycle the used cone once the seeds have been extracted,” said Pigott. “The seeds are put through an extraction and processing system to get all the debris out, and then the cones go onto a conveyer where they are put into sacks and then stored until we have a semi load.”

A company in Washington State buys the used cones and turns them into Christmas ornaments as well as potpourri. One hundred sacks of picked Douglas fir cones, once processed, turns into 15-25 kilograms of seeds with approximately 100,000 seeds per kilogram.

The goal of Yellow Point Propagation, Pigott said, is to continually improve the quality and stamina of their products and in doing so, improving the silviculture of not only B.C. forests, but forests around the world.

A helicopter helps with sampling of yellow cypress cones for quality this past summer. (Don Pigott photo)

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