We gather around our tables and give thanks this week for the bounty of the harvest, but do we think of the seeds that were planted to grow the tasty pumpkin or squash?
Growing up on a farm in the Midwest, I didn’t give much thought to the story behind the corn and soybean seeds planted each spring. Yes, I had many friends who worked the hot, humid fields detasseling corn to produce desired hybrids.
It wasn’t until moving to southwestern Idaho, when I began to fully appreciate that the bounty of the harvest really starts with seeds. This part of Idaho is a major seed growing area due to the warm and dry fall.
Organic seed farmer Beth Rasgorshek of Canyon Bounty Farm, located in southwestern Idaho, grew up in a seed growing family. She now grows a tremendous variety of organic seeds from edamame to watermelon.
“Farmers in southwestern Idaho used to grow a great diversity of seeds,” she says. “But that changed as seed companies consolidated and as farms further specialized. Now many of the farmers are focused on producing sweet corn, bean, carrot or onion seed.”
The changes are much deeper, though.
A new report following the 2014 Summit on Seeds & Breeds for 21st Century Agriculture highlights just how much has been lost. At the summit, breeders, researchers, farmers, representatives of germplasm banks, and non-profit organizations discussed the state of our nation’s seed supply, identifying the following major challenges:
- Shrinking public funding for developing better seeds
- Fewer seeds mean less biodiversity and resiliency
- Concentrated seed ownership limits farmers and consumer choice
- Restrictive patents prevent seed sharing and strip farmers of control
- Almost no public seed developers are left
- Aging seed storage systems means the loss of public seed ‘brain trust’ forever
These leaders also charted a path forward, calling upon the nation to reinvest in developing seeds and breeds to meet our current and future needs – the foundation of our food system. They recommended the following actions to revitalize public support for plant and animal breeding:
- National plan to restore funding and capacity
- Encourage biodiversity for resiliency
- Increase seed availability for farmer choice
- Reform patent and licensing laws
- Expand the numbers of current and future breeders
- Create innovative partnerships to foster innovation
- Democratize access to seeds for public benefit
- Increase public awareness of the importance of seeds
See this downloadable PDF for a summary of the key findings. View the full report here.
Investing in seed breeding is vital for advancing alternatives to pesticides. A crop bred to be resistant to disease or pests or to outcompete weeds prevents the need for pesticide use. This is especially important for organic farmers who rely primarily on preventative measures.
“If you’re an organic farmer, you just really have to start with the seed first,” says Rasgorshek. “You don’t want to grow something that’s going to be a failure!”
So this Thanksgiving, think beyond the harvest of your brussels sprouts, squash and carrots to the seed that was planted. NCAP, together with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, is working to reinvest in seeds – the foundation of our food security. Be ready to add your voice to the call for true food security.