Seeds big business in U.S.
ANN M. O'PHELANIn the 19th century, farmers saved the seeds from their own crops, shared them with family and friends, and did not purchase significant quantities from commercial sources.
Published: November 28, 2012
Published: November 28, 2012
The seed certification programs, implemented in the early 1900s, provided quality assurances to farmers, which in turn led to the rising commercial seed markets. The Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies established in 1919, is a global network that provides seed certification and quality assurance to the ag industry through member agencies.
Since the early days, the seed business has grown substantially here in the United States and globally. In fact, according to Ag Professional, "The global seed market grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.6 percent during the period 2005-2011."
The U.S. is the largest single nation market for seeds in the world, with China ranking second. The USDA states that, "U.S. farmers used over 6.5 million tons of seed for major field crops in the 1996/97 crop marketing year." These crops include corn, cotton, soybean and wheat. Annually, U.S. farmers produce about $100 billion worth of crops, so it makes sense they need a lot of seeds to begin with.
In the 1970s, during times of mergers, acquisitions and transitions, larger corporations bought out many of the smaller seed companies and now companies like Monsanto and AgroEvo are some of the major seed manufacturers. High-yielding, hybrid varieties of seeds have since been created to replace open-pollinated varieties that farmers saved from crops and later planted.
Different types of seeds vary in their production process, but the process of developing hybrids generally involves plant breeding R&D, seed production (growers are selected by seed companies), seed conditioning — drying , cleaning and sorting, treating the seeds with insecticides and fungicides, unless they are organic — and, lastly, marketing and distribution.
On the other hand, heirloom seeds are OPV, but are not used as often in larger scale agriculture. To preserve these types of seeds, organizations like Seed Savers Exchange, located in Iowa, collect, grow and share heirloom plants and seeds. The exchange's seeds are widely used by heirloom seed companies and small farm farmers.
In the United States, most of the large-scale seed production occurs in Idaho and on the West Coast, in Oregon, Washington and California. Those states generally have low humidity, excellent soils and warm, sunny dry climates during summer months — all of which make for optimal seed production. Furthermore, these very conditions allow for a lower incidence of disease and pest problems, as well as a longer growing season.
In Florida, the Florida Foundation Seed Producers Inc., one of AOSCA's Foundation Seed Organizations, works to "provide foundation seed and nursery stocks of the best-known varieties adaptable to the Florida climate and soils available annually to Florida farmers and producers in adequate quantities and at reasonable prices." Peanuts, citrus varieties, tropical foliage, along with many more, are developed and licensed by the FFSP.
Also in Florida is ECHO's Seed Bank in North Fort Myers, which sells seeds mainly to homeowners both online and on-site.
"We work with local growers on researching and experimenting with new breeds coming available, as well as working closely with our extension office," said Kimberly Chaps, Seed Bank manager.
Many of the seeds they offer are produced on location, while others are outsourced. They offer around 365 varieties of seeds, some of which are hard-to-find, that were created to grow in various parts of the world and can thrive under difficult growing conditions.
"All of our seeds are inspected, cataloged, germinated and packaged, whether it is farm-grown seed or donated by a university, missionary, or non-governmental organization," said Chaps.
For those homeowners who are planting gardens via seeds, here are a few tips provided by Linda Sapp, owner of Tomato Supply Company in Fort Myers, who sells tomato, pepper, and eggplant seeds to homeowners and hobby farmers:
Use a sterile potting mix, or seed starting mix. Seed starting mix is preferred as it is lighter/ better for germination. Moisten the mix before planting. Do not use excessive moisture on the seeds. Plant the seeds in the recommended depth, as well as the appropriate time of year. Keep seeds in a warm place until they sprout. Carefully follow seed instructions to ensure the plants will grow and won't later "dampen off," meaning to turn brown and collapse, once they germinate.
For tomatoes and pepper seeds: Plant no more than 1/4-inch deep. Keep tomato and pepper seeds at 75 to 80 degrees. Eggplant seeds at up to 85 degrees.
You can get more information about how and when to plant a variety of seeds in University of Florida's Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh021