Risa DeMasi: Seed Executive Surrounds Herself with Agricultural Know-How

The co-founder of Grassland Oregon learns from her own experiences and those of others to cultivate success.
Risa DeMasi has appeared on the cover of Seed World magazine. She was the first woman to serve as an officer of the American Seed Trade Association, then the first to serve as its chair. Agriculture, however, was not her original career choice.

DeMasi grew up on a small beef farm in Oregon. She studied vocal performance in college, and her first post-graduate job was in retail sales with a mass-market clothier.

“I learned pretty quickly that I’m passionate about clothes,” she says, laughing. “Not fashion.”

Disillusioned with the ready-to-wear business, she took a job as the shipping manager for a seed company, where some of the employees were family acquaintances. She has worked in the grass sector ever since, moving into logistics, then sales and marketing. After that first company went out of business, she co-founded Grassland Oregon in 2000.

As a breeder, producer and provider of seed products for turf, forage and cover crops, Grassland Oregon evaluates more than 4,000 unique lines of multiple species annually. DeMasi loves her job.

“Agriculture is such a great industry,” she says. “Where else can you say that you make such a difference? Almost everything starts with a seed.”

Wearer of Multiple Hats

Grassland Oregon employs about a dozen people. The company is headquartered in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, a region that produces almost two-thirds of America’s cool-season grasses. It also owns a research farm in Iowa.

As co-founder, partner and director of marketing for the small, but growing company, DeMasi wears a lot of hats around the office. She earned each of them over time. Because she lacked formal training in corporate marketing, she built those skills on the job, learning as she grew as a professional.

“Agriculture is such a great industry. Where else can you say that you make such a difference? Almost everything starts with a seed.”

Risa DeMasi
“I had no experience in marketing. It’s all self-learned and networking. You just draw on every experience that you can get,” she says, noting that she thrives on career challenges. “I like to throw myself off the cliff.”

But when she does, there are people around her who can help guide her to a safe landing. She makes sure of it by pushing herself to meet new people and learn from their experiences. DeMasi calls these folks her “personal board of directors.”

“You want to surround yourself with people who are encouraging, but also people who are going to tell you when you’re making mistakes,” she says. “You need people who will push you beyond what you’re currently thinking.”

Lifelong Learner

DeMasi’s board includes professional mentors, competitors she has met through her work with the seed association, and customers with whom she has built years-long relationships.

“I never want to be stagnate. I have spent my career learning from other people,” she says. “If you look at successful people, that’s what they do. They never stand still.”

She applies the same approach to building Grassland Oregon as she does to building her career. The company has embraced new technologies in grass breeding and precision cover cropping, working to anticipate the needs of farmers, ranchers and homeowners.

“We don’t like to be followers,” she says. “We work to be intentionally different.”