Former ABC President Dick Severson is finally living his boyhood dream
By Julie Pederson
Dick Severson has a passion for farming. And after 36 years, several careers and raising a family in Springfield, Oregon, he has finally realized his dream of becoming a full-time farmer. Severson Farms has been in full production for four years and Dick’s life-long love of farming has only continued to grow in that time.
Dick was not raised on a farm and his parents were suspicious of his love for something they knew only as begrudging labor. “As a small boy, I always had an attraction to farming and curiosity about what was going on in the countryside,” says Dick. “My parents discouraged farming as a career though. They grew up on farms and there was nothing romantic about it.”
Although Dick spent his childhood and college years as close to agriculture as possible – working summers in the fields and canneries surrounding Salem – he heeded his parents warning when considering career options. “I decided the practicalities of farming as a career were pretty unlikely and I realize now that I was wise to make that decision when I was young. It would have been a hard life,” Dick said.
While confident he made the right decision, Dick has a great respect for young farmers today and admires their courage and sacrifice.
Deciding against traditional farming as a career did not deter Dick from staying as close as possible to agriculture when searching for jobs. He worked 23 years in fisheries, most of which were spent with Ore-Aqua, a private salmon ocean ranching business that became the largest in Oregon during its operation. It was during his time here that Dick became familiar with the Agri-Business Council of Oregon and eventually served nine years on the executive committee, including a three year term as this organizations president.
When Ore-Aqua shut down in 1990 due to legislation minimizing its operation, Dick became a consultant in the field and his contacts through this work brought him to his next position as the general manager of Agri-Tech, a company that delivers industrial bi-products to agricultural land for use as soil amendment.
Despite working full time and frequently traveling on the job, while raising two young girls with wife Maryanne, Dick found time to keep a small farm operation running throughout the years. At different times the family raised hogs, Shropshire sheep, chickens, turkeys, calves and a sizable vegetable garden.
“The girls were not always as fond of farming as their father. I pushed them, sometimes kicking and screaming, and in ways it was selfish since it was not their passion, but it was also for them,” Dick says. “I would say ‘This is good stuff! You’ll thank me someday!’” And apparently they have. The days of preparing sheep for 4-H and picking produce for the market are memories the family cherishes.
Even while hobby farming, Dick knew he would some day want to expand his small Springfield farm and work the land full time. “It was during my years at Agri-Tech that I began to think of ways to develop the farm for the purpose of business and profit,” Dick says. “I began to research and talk to people about how I could do this and what I should grow.”
Never one to shy from a farming challenge, Dick decided to grow a variety of crops, and today he farms full time on the same land where he raised his family. Dick focused on Oregon’s top commodities when he started developing his farm plan. “I decided to grow nursery because that part of the industry is so well-networked,” Dick says, “and I also wanted to raise cattle, partially because of my love affair with cattle, but also because the industry is huge, with abundant knowledge and a network of support.”
Dick’s nursery operation is thriving and after just four years, he is afraid they will sell out of some varieties. “I was always just a grower and then I realized I had to sell it,” Dick says with a chuckle. “But before I knew it, I had built a network of buyers.”
Using only word of mouth advertizing, demand for Dick’s nursery products has spread throughout Oregon. When reflecting on the success of his nursery stock, Dick credits his local approach. “I think people are impressed that the plants are delivered by the guy who grew it. And if there is a problem, they know where to find me.”
Although his cattle operation is developing more slowly, it is clearly the challenge of farming that Dick has loved all along and this portion of the farm is providing him enough excitement and challenges to make up for his years of waiting.
Now that Dick is a full-time farmer, his enthusiasm for the job is stronger than ever. Whether talking about his constant battle against the Horse Tail Rush and Canadian Thistle that plague his fields, or his midnight calving experiences, the love in his voice would convince anyone listening that he is finally living his dream.
“Not everyone finds a passion in life and I am sorry for those who don’t. Farming is my passion and I am really blessed to have it,” Dick says, “It’s something I never tire of and the rewards are tremendous.”