Calvin Ernst Inducted into Armsby Honor Society
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Posted by: Gregg Robertson
UNIVERSITY PARK – PLNA member Calvin Ernst, founder and president of Ernst Conservation Seeds, was recently inducted into the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences Armsby Honor Society. Each year, the College inducts several individuals into the Society who have demonstrated a long-term commitment to the College and its mission.
Ernst graduated from Penn State in 1963 with a bachelor's degree in agricultural bioscience. That year, he learned of an opportunity to provide the legume crownvetch to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) for highway median vegetation and erosion control. He convinced his father to set aside five acres of the family’s farm so he could grow the crop and harvest the seed for PennDOT.
The next spring, he and his brother Luther planted an additional 60 acres that were eventually sold to Stanford Seed. In 1964, Ernst founded Ernst Crownvetch Farms. The farm grew crownvetch seeds, plugs and propagules that were used by numerous highway departments and other agencies for erosion control and roadside beautification.
Recognizing a decline in the crownvetch market and the ecological merits of a shift to native seeds, Ernst introduced native deertongue as his company’s first native plant seed in the late 1980s, and found a market for it primarily in strip mine reclamation projects.
Within a few short years, he shifted almost his entire product offering to native plant seeds, and soon changed the name of his company to Ernst Conservation Seeds. The company soon began specializing in custom mixes for wetland mitigation, restoration and wildlife habitat. It later added bioengineering – or live plant materials – for stream bank restoration and other uses.
What began as five acres now includes nearly 10,000 acres of native grasses and wildflowers comprising approximately 400 native and naturalized species for seed production and limited live plant sales. The majority of acreage is located in northwestern Pennsylvania, though the company owns additional farm land in Florida, and has cooperative growing relationships in Maryland, North Carolina and Oregon.
Its products are sold to conservation organizations, landscape architects, reclamation/restoration contractors, government agencies and private landowners throughout the United States and abroad. Ernst and his company continue a mission to identify and locate native species with restoration and conservation value that can be cultivated into mass production.
Ernst has received numerous other honors from his peers throughout his career, including the College of Agricultural Sciences Outstanding Alumni in 2014, the American Agriculturist Master Farmer award in 2008, the Governor Raymond P. Shafer Distinguished Service to the Community Award in 2007 and the USDA-NRCS Plant Materials Program Special Service Award in 2004. In addition to PLNA, he is a member of several trade, professional and conservation organizations.