Seed World

LAST RESPECTS: Pickseed Co-Founder Tom Pick Remembered as a Driven Businessman and Caring Mentor

Tom Pick died April 26 at the age of 86.

A giant of the North American seed industry has passed away and is being remembered as a visionary who served as a mentor who truly cared about those he worked with.

Tom Pick died on April 26 in Lindsey, Ont., with family at his side. He was 86.

Tom, his brother Martin and mother Marie grew Pickseed into the world’s fourth largest grass and forage seed company with research, production and distribution operations across Canada, and established Pickseed West in Oregon.

“Working with him was a true pleasure. He wasn’t just a boss; he was an honourable man who genuinely cared about his employees. Throughout my journey there, he provided many opportunities for growth and advancement, something I’ll always be grateful for,” says Chris McDowell, co-founder of Vista Seed Partners in Shedd, Oregon.

McDowell worked with Tom Pick for several decades during her tenure with Pickseed Oregon, where she climbed the ladder and became one of the first women in the U.S. seed industry to take on a major leadership role. She was the first woman to serve as president of the Oregon Seed Council, and has also led the Oregon Seed Association and served as chair the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) board and the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) Lawn Seed Division.

“Tom was very instrumental in me doing those things. He was a quiet person, but he was very, very plugged into the seed industry. I hold a special fondness for him because he paved the way for me in an industry where women were a rarity, especially three or four decades ago,” she adds.

“Opportunities for women, especially in positions like general manager of a large seed company like Pickseed, were few and far between. Yet, despite the odds, he believed in me and gave me that chance to prove myself.”

Born in Louny, Czechoslovakia, Tom Pick arrived in Canada as a newborn, when his parents Otto and Marie and his aunt Lya fled Czechoslovakia in advance of the Nazi invasion. First settling in Caledonia, Ont., and later in Toronto, Otto and Marie established a family seed business, the beginnings of what would become Pickseed.

At school, Tom was a natural leader, organizing sports teams and playing and coaching basketball at Ontario’s Richmond Hill High School. After graduation he joined the family business, then enrolled in the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph. He would cut his studies short after his father’s untimely death in 1959, returning home to help run the seed business.

So began the massive legacy that Pickseed would leave in the North American seed landscape.

Tom and Martin’s journey to become important and serious players in Canadian forage seed began when they re-organized the company under Otto Pick and Sons Seeds, later to become Pickseed Canada and finally the Pickseed Group of Companies. The business was sold to DLF in 2013.

When their dad passed away, the brothers fell into their roles naturally, Martin says.

A yearbook photo of Tom Pick when he attended Richmond Hill High School in the 1950s.

“Tom took on the financial side of things, handling the high-level stuff like a pro. Meanwhile, I was out in the field, dealing with sales agents, growers, and getting my hands dirty with the research side of things. It was a good setup. We complemented each other well. Tom had a knack for seeing the big picture, figuring out where we should steer the ship next.”

The pair witnessed the turf and forage seed sector survive its many incarnations over the years.

“When Tom and I took over from our late father, the seed industry really was mainly forage seeds: timothy, alfalfa, clover, bromegrass. The corn guys, they were playing down in their own corner in Chatham, Ont., and soybeans were a very small niche at that time — soybean was pretty much relegated to southwestern Ontario. Canola was unheard of,” Martin says.

In the 1960s, when seed regulations changed in Canada, Tom saw an opportunity with a new type of timothy in Manitoba.

“He went out there, met with growers, made connections. Next thing you know, we’re diving into wholesale, even expanding internationally,” Martin says. “Tom was relentless. That’s just how he was — a hardworking, dedicated guy through and through. And you know, it paid off. We built something special together.”

Kurt Shmon, owner of Winnipeg-based Imperial Seed, knew that side of Tom Pick well. They worked together at Pickseed for over 20 years.

“Instead of just telling you how things worked, he showed you, patiently explaining each step along the way. This approach was invaluable in my role, and it’s something I strive to do with our staff here at Imperial Seed,” Shmon says.

One vivid memory stands out from the early ’90s when Shmon was helping install new seed cleaning lines at Pickseed’s Winnipeg operations.

“It was my first real exposure to the depth and thoroughness of Tom’s knowledge. Tom’s understanding of the intricacies involved was impressive. His grasp of the operational side of seed cleaning and the industry as a whole was evident. I remember being so impressed at how much Tom knew, and I learned so much from him.”

Tom was active in the global seed industry, serving as president of the Canadian Seed Trade Association and on the boards of the American Seed Trade Association and the Federation Internationale de Semences. In 2013, Tom spearheaded the sale of the Pickseed Group of Companies to DLF Trifolium, a Danish multi-national organization. He retired that year.

His retirement life focused on countless projects at the farm including woodworking, tapping maple trees and rebuilding antique cars, a hobby he’d enjoyed since he was a teenager.

“Back when we were still in high school, Tom and his buddy embarked on restoring a Model T Ford from scratch. Can you imagine? They put in the hours, the sweat, and probably a few choice words, but in the end, they got it done,” Martin says. “He was just an all-around driven and dedicated person.”