In 1982, Dan McKay was asked to return to homestead where his family had been farming for nearly a century. While Dan had always understood the importance of the family business, he also knew that he wanted to make his own mark on the enterprise. He agreed to come back – but he made clear that he wanted the chance to innovate, as well.
He and his father, William G. McKay (1928-2017), founded McKay Seed Company. The operation began supplying retail wheat seed to their friends and neighbors. As one of the earliest advocates of Certified Seed in the Pacific Northwest, Dan put quality right at the heart of the new company’s values.
Building on his early success in retail seed sales, Dan began seeking new opportunities for the young company. With some research, he quickly realized commodity grains exports were tremendously promising. In the early 1990s, William, Dan, and Don Sloan (now McKay Seed’s Chief Operating Officer) began exporting barley to Saudi Arabia.
Of course, the small Saudi Arabian barley program was only the beginning. Soon afterwards Dan McKay made new partnerships in the Pacific Northwest to begin exporting buckwheat to Japan. The new crop was incredibly successful for farmers in the PNW, and Japanese customers couldn’t be more pleased with the quality of the crop. Soon after, Dan began exploring the possibility of exporting barley to Japan for tea and food use. It took several years, but today, barley exports to Japan represent McKay Seed Company’s largest business model. In recent years, Dan has continued to lead the seed company he founded on a trajectory of innovation. In 2013, he orchestrated the purchase of WestBred’s barley assets. Together with his two sons and Sloan, he founded Highland Specialty Grains, a sister-company focused on research and development of new specialty crops for the PNW. In collaboration with large food processors and the company’s valued Japanese partners, McKay Seed and Highland are not only changing the way growers farm in the PNW – we’re changing the way people eat all over the world.
In conjunction sister-company Highland Specialty Grains, McKay Seed Company is leading the country in food Barley development and production. McKay Seed Company is currently the #1 exporter of commercial barley to Japan for food use. Unlike normal feed-quality barleys, McKay Seed has exported barley with specific end-use characteristics. Waxy, High Beta-Glucan varieties have been tremendously successful in Asia, and are beginning to gain traction within the US as well.
Grown entirely for export to Japan, American buckwheat is becoming known for its excellent end-use quality – especially in artisan milling applications. Primarily used for dry or fresh packaged noodles, McKay Seed has been exporting buckwheat to Japan for nearly twenty years. We handle both public and private, exclusive varieties. Some of these varieties owned by McKay Seed/Highland Specialty grains are particularly noted for their rich, appetizing green color, known as “Green Testa” buckwheat.
A smaller commodity project, Mustard is used primarily for the ball-game condiment widely available in the U.S. We have experience with contract production of brown and yellow mustard, which has been used in both artisan stone-ground applications, as well as your traditional squeeze-bottle products.
Currently under development with the research group at Highland Specialty Grains, McKay Seed has been interested in Quinoa for some time. With a little effort, we should be able to introduce yet another game-changing commodity crop to growers in the Pacific Northwest.
Commitment to Quality
With his early support for Certified Seed, Dan has made clear since the very beginning that McKay Seed Company is committed to the quality of our products. Whether in the retail seed industry or in our commodity production, all of our employees understand that producing a quality product is our top priority. We believe that value-based approach serves our customers’ interest, and we’re proud of the service and products we offer. In order to make sure that we’re keeping up with that commitment to quality, we decided to pursue certification under the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). In 2018, our Tensed, Idaho facility was certified as compliant under the Safe, Quality Food (SQF) guidelines. That certification represented a six-month process of learning for us as and implementing a wide variety of documentation and reports that allow us to hold ourselves accountable. At the end of the implementation process, we were audited by an independent compliance specialist. Our facility received a score of 94 out of 100 possible points, and we were certified in good standing. For more information on SQF or the GFSI, please visit mygfsi.com and sqfi.com respectively.