Oregon Turf Plays Global Role in World Cup, Thanks to Canby-Based Pure Seed

A version of this article was first published in the February 2023 edition of Canby Living Magazine.

Like billions of people around the globe, Crystal Rose-Fricker found herself glued to her television screen during the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar last November and December.

But unlike most soccer fans, Rose-Fricker was paying special attention to one very particular detail of one of the world’s largest sporting events: the quality of the playing surface.

That’s because Rose-Fricker is president of Pure Seed, a global leader in grass seed research, production, marketing, and services based in Canby, and her company provided tens of thousands of pounds of grass seed for the eight stadiums and 71 practice fields that formed the World Cup campus in Qatar.

It was a monumental task, made possible by years of research and development. But the result, incredibly, was that Oregon-grown turf was spotlighted on the world’s biggest sports stage. (Heck, one might even say it was the stage.)

Photos courtesy Pure Seed and Atlas Turf International.

An estimated 5 billion viewers tuned in to the 2022 World Cup, which was eventually claimed by Argentina, led by the legendary Lionel Messi.

“It was pretty cool,” Rose-Fricker admitted. “You know, the grass varieties are sort of like our children, so it’s kind of like watching them perform well in some of the top events and some of the top athletic facilities in the world.

“And, just feeling like we had a small part in helping that event to be a success and helping those players to reach their potential and achieve their dreams, it’s pretty cool. And a big deal for Oregon as well.”

Pure Seed is a wholesale producer of commercial turf and forage grasses, founded by Rose-Fricker’s pioneering father, Bill Rose. It began as a grass seed farm, one of more than 1,000 in Oregon, and a cattle ranch called Roselawn, which is now run by Bill’s son, Ed Rose, and his family.

When she was still a teenager, her dad started a small grass seed testing and research company that she now runs.

Photos courtesy Pure Seed and Atlas Turf International.

And despite growing (pun intended) into one of the largest private grass-breeding companies in the country, it remains a relatively small and tightly knit operation led by three breeders: Rose-Fricker herself, her son Austin Fricker, and Dr. Melodee Fraser, who is based at Pure Seed’s research farm in North Carolina.

Over the course of five decades, the company has supplied grass seed for golf courses, football fields, and soccer pitches around the globe — in upwards of 50 different countries. New varieties are tested at Pure Seed’s research farms in Oregon and North Carolina, carefully bred to match each customer’s unique needs.

“We do production with hundreds of growers of our varieties, and then we bring them into our warehouses to blend and package them,” Rose-Fricker explained. “Sometimes, we coat the seed or treat the seed and then ship that out to distributors, and then they ship it to the end user around the world.”

In the case of the 2022 World Cup, the opportunity came thanks to a collaboration with another turf grass producer, Atlas Turf International.

While it was Pure Seed that developed the perennial ryegrass variety used for the overseeding, it was Atlas Turf that provided the warm-season and salt-tolerant grass well-suited to the region called seashore paspalum that was used as the base turf.

Photos courtesy Pure Seed and Atlas Turf International.

As you could probably guess, growing a lush, verdant lawn of green grass is not as easy in the deserts of Qatar–where summertime temperatures routinely top 110 degrees Fahrenheit–as it is in temperate Oregon.

In addition to the hot climate, aridity, and soil conditions, turfing contractors for the World Cup also had to contend with the challenges of shade caused by the partially closed stadium roofs and the rigors of 64 premier-level soccer matches played over the course of less than a month.

“You go there, and you’re like, ‘How can grass grow here?'” Rose-Fricker said. “And that’s why one of the two main species is seashore paspalum, because it’s heat- and salt-tolerant. There is a lot of our seashore paspalum seed on golf courses over there.

“The other species is perennial ryegrass, a cool-season turfgrass, that we also grow in Oregon. It can take the heat for a while, but it is more suitable when the winter temperatures set in. So since the games were held during the winter months, they overseeded the paspalum with the perennial ryegrass.”

Shipping the perennial ryegrass seed in time for the World Cup was another logistical challenge. It was shipped in May via ocean carrier, arriving in mid-July. Once in Qatar, groundskeepers had a 10-day window to plant the seed over the paspalum in October so it would be ready for the start of the tournament on November 20.

Photos courtesy Pure Seed and Atlas Turf International.

But it’s under such conditions that the perennial ryegrass blends developed by Pure Seed really shine.

The seed is highly prized by premier athletic venues, including football stadiums here in Oregon, because it grows quickly and thickly, Rose-Fricker said, germinating in just three days and forming a nice, dense, and vibrantly green turf in a few weeks.

For the World Cup, Pure Seed had to work with teams at each stadium to develop just the right blend of ryegrass and underlying grasses, with different countries and their avid fan bases preferring slightly different shades of green or other characteristics.

“We went back and looked at the varieties of seed that we sent, and it represented a total of about 13 of our growers in Oregon,” Rose-Fricker said. “So, it was really cool to see our grass over there being played on by teams from all those different countries and just really gratifying to think that it came from here in Oregon.

“And it seemed like the grass held up pretty well. I didn’t see or hear any complaints.”

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