SEEDS OF CHANGE
found this article and thought it would give those of us who are securing our own food supply a heads up. you might be able to start a biz as well
Are We Seeing the Early Signs of a Seed Availability Crisis?
Sharon December 11th, 2008
Back in March, right before I started the first food storage class, I
wrote this post, analyzing the problems likely to face us if we
suddenly needed to start growing our own food. I argued that if we
faced a Depression or major disruption of the food supply, we’d find
it very difficult to ramp up seed production rapidly for . I wrote:
The home garden trade is a small subset of the seed trade, and the
serious home gardening/small farming trade a vastly smaller subset
even of that. The majority of home gardeners start comparatively few
seeds – they purchase pre-started flats of vegetables instead of
seeds. I’m consistently amazed to see things that are grown from seed
incredibly easily – lettuce, for example, in flats, and being bought
like wildfire. So the majority of home gardeners have little
experience planting seeds at all – carrots, perhaps and peas, and
that’s probably about it. Although slightly off my main topic, this
is something worth noting – even most experienced gardeners may have
almost no experience growing food from seeds.
Of gardeners who do start seeds, the vast majority – more than 90% of
them – do not order from seed catalogs and companies that specialize
in home garden seeds, they get their seeds from seed racks in garden
centers, supermarkets, Walmarts and other places. And the majority of
that sell through these seed racks are not deeply
invested in producing high quality seed. According to Steve Solomon,
founder of Territorial Seeds and author of _Gardening When It Counts_
the vast majority of seed sales involve simply the purchase of bulk
seed, often from foreign distributors, and repackaging of that seed
without variety trials, often without germination tests, and with
little consideration of what is adapted to particular regions.
In many cases, the cheapest varieties of bulk seeds will have off-
types, because hybridization often requires labor-intensive hand
pollinating in the field, and high cost isn’t what such companies are
after. Solomon also notes that many companies use extremely poor
quality seed, even sweepings from the seed floor, in cheap packets to
be sold in commercial garden centers. Those 10cent packages of seed
you see in various places may not actually even have 10 cents worth
of seed in them.
Only about 10% of the home garden seed trade is focused on high
quality vegetable seed production, mostly by mail order. These are
the seed catalogs whose seed will have the germination percentages
they claim. These are the people who will replace your packet that
does have poor germination, and who will ensure vigorous seed with
varities tested for your region – but it is important to remember
that they do serve a tiny percentage of the total seed sales in the
US, and they are not necessarily prepared to serve a vast increase in
In an agricultural transition period, when people start running short
of food, what they will want are seeds that are viable (that is, they
are not too old and have been stored well, and thus, will grow),
vigorous (that is, they grow well and don’t produce weak plants
vulnerable to disease and pests), high yielding (that is, they
produce a lot of whatever crop we are seeking), are adapted to their
climate and to small scale food production (that is, they weren’t
selected for commercial production, or primarily for shipping ability
and they grow well where we’re growing food), available in fairly
large quantities (most home gardeners buy a packet or two of each
thing, but if you are feeding yourself from your garden, or making
succession crops, or selling at market, you’ll find you need much
more seed), and reasonably priced (that is, you can afford to buy it,
or you can save seed and only buy it once).
Most of the home garden seed trade may produce seed that has some of
these qualities, maybe even all of them. But only a small percentage
is focused on ensuring that all these requirements are met. Assuming
that, for example, we were to see food shortages in 2009, and a
widespread agricultural transition beginning in 2010, how long would
it take to ramp up an adequate seed supply that would serve small
scale market gardeners and home food producers, and meet the above
Well, first of all, we could expect to see serious shortages in 2010.
That year, seed suppliers would be unable to meet demand – they have
been expecting less than 5% of the American population to plant any
kind of garden, most of them , and they simply don’t
have enough spare production capacity to meet present needs. This is
particularly likely if the biofuels boom is continuing, and there is
no leeway in the demand for seed among commercial farmers that might
be sold to home gardeners.
Imagining that 10-20% of the population begins to garden in 2010 and
existing home gardeners expand their production, we can expect seed
prices to skyrocket, availability to fall, and many people to have to
rely on seed packets that don’t meet the above requirements – that
is, seed packets that have been kept in heated supermarkets and thus
have reduced viability, or those routinely placed outside where they
get wet and are exposed to repeated freezing and thawing, or were of
low quality to begin with. So not only will the seed trade come up
short, but some of what will be sold will be seed that was never of a
quality likely to feed those who depend on them.
Yesterday afternoon, my Fedco Seed Catalog arrived – always my
personal favorite. And on page 6, what should I see but this, in
founder CR Lawn’s description of their situation:
And now seed prices. I’ve ben 30 years in this business and these
are the highest increases to us I’ve ever seen. The ethanol boom
diverting land to corn production has ahd a tremendous impocat on
farm commodity prices, including vegetable seeds. Wholesale prices
for pea and bean seed are up 30-50%, for corn and squash, 20% or
more. Even so, wholesalers could not find growers for all crops so
several varieties are missing from our catalog. Horrible growing
weather this summer has exacerbated the shortage.
This follows on their best year ever, one in which demand for seed
outgrew supply not only for Fedco, but for other seed companies –
Pinetree Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Heirlooms and
Territorial Seeds all reported dramatic increases in demand, and ran
out of some varieties early. A farmer I know who raises seed as her
main crop reported that she was fielding calls from companies she’s
never dealt with before, trying to find stock. I placed a late order
to Fedco, only to find that nearly a quarter of my selections were
already sold out.
It was inevitable that demand for land for ethanol should affect the
seed trade – and because seeds are a lagging indicator – in the case
of many biennial crops, one has to begin planning two year ahead –
seed supplies are likely to remain affected for several years.
Moreover, the cost of inputs, including fertilizers remains high, and
likely to affect seed production. Farmers are among those most in
danger of going out of business as credit lines get cut, and that
includes seed growers.
Meanwhile economists are estimating month after month of a million US
job losses. My guess is that some of those millions of people are
going to try and compensate for their lost income by growing some
food. We are likely to see more people trying to get ahold of seed –
and already high prices, which will probably push some people out of
the market. My concern is that this is just one more sign of what I
fear most in the Depression – the inability of food producers
(including seed growers) to effectively connect with people who need
food. This was the crisis of the Depression – those who had food
couldn’t afford to get it directly to those who needed it, and both
were impoverished by the failure of that connection. Given that we
rely heavily on industrial middlemen in giant Agribusiness
corporations, this seems even more likely.
What can and should you do? Well, on a purely practical level, order
early, and make space in your budget for higher seed costs if you
can. A lot of us put our seed catalogs aside until after the
holidays – I won’t be doing that this year. And consider donating
extras to your local community garden – there will be more people who
can’t afford seeds this year.
And make this the year you really commit to seriously learning how to
save garden seeds – I know it seem strange to most middle class
Americans, but the world is full of people who can’t afford to buy
seeds every year, and we may be joining them. Moreover, seed savers
have seed to share with their neighbors, and are a link in our
community food security. Join http://www.seedsavers. org, and commit to
taking responsibility for one variety that may be lost – an economic
crisis means that some of the people who have been doing this work
may need to do other work, so we need to pick up the slack.
Store your seed carefully, so that you make the best possible use of
it. Learn to start plants from seed – people on a budget can’t
afford to waste money on transplants they can easily grow themselves.
Support small seed companies like the ones mentioned above,
particularly those that emphasize open-pollinated seeds, and do
extensive variety trials and testing – we’re going to need them. Do
not allow them to be victims of the credit crisis.
If you farm, Fedco and likely others are seeking growers for seed
varieties – this could be a win-win situation for people struggling
to make money as farmers in this economy.
Most of all, pay attention to the little seed. Like many other tiny
things, it is far more important than most people realize.
Nice post! This seed situation is worse than most can imagine.Start now!
Thank you joe2baba for the great post!
I have grown some toms and peppers from seed the past 2 years and have recently bought a how to book on seed saving.
Just received an order from Pinetree (worms,books) yesterday, but only ordered 1 packet of lettuce to see if I could grow it indoors. With impetus from your post, I will now order seeds in earnest.
chorus from my song Hard Times Coming below
Hard times coming
I see need.
Joseph showed us how to feed.
STOP the violence!
STOP the greed!
Share the harvest.
Save the seed.
Interesting, I ordered some non hybrid seeds packed for long term storage from AAOOB about 6 weeks ago, theyre still not here despite them reassuring me they are on the way.
[quote=WhoKnew]Interesting, I ordered some non hybrid seeds packed for long term storage from AAOOB about 6 weeks ago, theyre still not here despite them reassuring me they are on the way. [/quote]
I ordered from AAOOB about three weeks ago and received my order (Southern mix) in about 12 days or so.
what is the name of the book. please post any resources you have and i would love to hear the song i love the lyrics.
Good post Joe, and very important.
I have an occasional gift box from America sent by one of my uncle’s who is a farmer, and sometimes my quality seeds make it through TW customs, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the Customs agent comes with the mailman to see what the hell I am doing, and I need to convince him or her that these are food seed, and not some sort of drug seed, Customs officials seem to always crap a brick when they see seeds of any kind.
I have read ( I can’t remember where) that GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) seeds have been taking a larger and larger share of the market and that the UN and IMF suggested/required that many countries exclusively use these seeds. Here’s a link and I’d be interested to know what others, more knowledgeable (judging from these posts, you guys know what you’re doing), think of GM seeds.
I have a hard time keeping the bushes and trees in my yard alive but would like to try my hand at some homegrown food.