Pages tagged "Seed Breeders"
Panic Buying Comes for the Seeds
This eye-opening and informative story from the New York Times, Panic Buying Comes for the Seeds, is a must-read! Hear from our local Victory Seed Company on what they're experiencing during these challenging times and why it's so important to protect our seeds.
Panic Buying Comes for the Seeds
I knew firsthand how calming gardening can be, especially when you’re not dependent on the food for your immediate survival. Time slows down a little, thoughts meander, and a feeling of flow can arrive, even when the land you’re cultivating is a tiny patch in earshot of a bus stop.
But as I searched for seeds to grow beautifully swirled red and white Chioggia beets, fiery peppers and enough basil to start my own pesto company, website after website warned that my vegetative dreams may be delayed.
"It feels like we are selling toilet paper," Mike Dunton, the founder of The Victory Seed Company, a small seed company focused on horticultural biodiversity told me via email. (He was too busy filling orders to come to the phone.)
I’d been searching his company’s website for glass gem corn, a popping corn that originated with Carl Barnes, who was a part-Cherokee farmer in Oklahoma. In recent years, the corn has become internet famous because of its kaleidoscopic jewel-like appearance. My pandemic prep included buying four pounds of standard yellow popping corn; glass gem corn felt like a way of stepping up my game.
But the website cautioned that all buyers were agreeing to abide by “pandemic ordering terms,” and warned that the current shipping backlog was 18 to 24 days.
Clearly, I was not the only person who felt that the best path through the pandemic was to panic-buy a bunch of seeds."
Noah Schlager, the conservation program manager of a nonprofit seed seller called Native Seeds/SEARCH, said: “I was talking with a colleague who was saying that a lot of elders lived through the Great Depression, and they remember times like this."
“They’ve been saying, ‘This is the time to be saving these seeds and making sure that we can feed ourselves,’” he added.
The mission of Native Seed Search, a nonprofit, is to promote and conserve the crop biodiversity of the arid American southwest. (Native Seed Search is responsible for bringing attention to glass gem corn.) The company sells seeds to the public, “but our priority is seeds for Indigenous communities,” Mr. Schlager said, pointing out that the Navajo Nation is already suffering because of the new coronavirus.
“They’re oftentimes the last place where real aid, or FEMA support, or anything really gets handed out to people,” he said."
As the seed industry consolidates, open source breeders hope to preserve important varieties for the farms of the future
The Open Seed Source Initiative (OSSI) is a direct response to the fact that many of the world’s crop varieties are being developed, patented, and sold by the Big Six seed and chemical companies. Five of the Big Six are likely to merge into just 3 very powerful seed and chemical giants (ChemChina & Syngenta, Bayer & Monsanto, Dow Chemical & DuPont), and would own more than half of the world’s seed supply.
In only 80 short years (from 1903 to 1983), the U.S. has lost about 93% of our unique seed varieties to industrial agriculture.
Our food security is at risk. “Having so few people making decisions about what biodiversity is planted on the agricultural landscape is scary. We’ve been shown that when many people rely on too narrow a germplasm pool, we know the risk of plant disease is much higher.” -Claire Luby, plant breeder and executive director of OSSI
Most plant breeding used to take place in the university setting, particularly at Land Grant Universities,which are publicly funded agricultural and technical educational institutions. Now, in many cases, those universities’ influence on the marketplace have been overshadowed by the big seed companies.
As a result, according to a2014 reportfrom Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), the U.S. has lost over a third of its public plant-breeding programs in the last 20 years, and the number of public seed breeders continues to decline. For example, “there are only five public corn breeders left, down from a peak of 25 in the 1960s,” according to the report’s authors.
University seed research is also often tied up by intellectual property restrictions. Under the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, all inventions that come out of universities must go through designated technology transfer offices. so academic breeders don’t often retain the rights to the seeds they breed. In addition, Deppe notes that, “University plant breeders are increasingly having trouble getting access to the germplasm they need to breed new varieties.”
Claire Luby, a plant breeder and postdoctoralresearch associate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is the executive director of OSSI. She has spent years breeding seeds and studying intellectual property rights, and has released eight open-source carrot varieties through OSSI. Luby says that around a third of all carrot germplasm is private. And while it’s tough to say exactly how much publicly available, unpatented seed exists outside OSSI, the overall trend is alarming.
For one, says Luby, food security is at risk. “Having so few people making decisions about what biodiversity is planted on the agricultural landscape is scary. We’ve been shown that when many people rely on too narrow a germplasm pool, we know the risk of [plant] disease is much higher.”
In response, Deppe, who is on the board of OSSI, says the group wants “to create a protected commons in which at least a substantial part of all the germplasm needed to create new seed crops is kept available for everyone’s use.”