Seed Research Falls "Under the Microscope"

As chairman of the Corn & Sorghum Division for the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA), I have the opportunity to talk with seed business leaders across the nation about issues facing our industry. Recently, independent seed research has “come under the microscope” by the Union for Concerned Scientists (UCS).  Today I’d like to share a few thoughts about this subject.

In a Feb. 13 article published by the LA Times, Doug Gurian-Sherman of the UCS makes the accusation that public sector seed research is misleading and false.  He writes, “[Multibillion-dollar corporations] have restricted independent research on their genetically engineered crops.  They have often refused to provide independent scientists with seeds or they’ve set restrictive conditions that severely limit research options.”

Gurian-Sherman’s accusation is misleading itself as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and several universities actually have research agreements in place for commercial seed products that do not have oversight or funding by the seed industry.  ASTA President & CEO Andy LaVigne, in response to the Feb. 13 article, writes:  “Seed companies work with researchers during the product development process, which often involves universities and the USDA, depending on the type of product being developed and the targeted geographic and crop market.  This partnership is an integral and valuable part of the development of new seed varieties and technologies.”

Independent, family-owned seed companies like Latham Hi-Tech Seeds also develop strategic partnerships with major seed technology, traits and genetics suppliers.  Thanks to the millions of dollars they invest daily into R&D, farmers today are more productive and efficient than ever.  Corn yields have increased from 90 bushels per acre in 1980 to more than 152 b/A in 2010.  That’s a 62-bushel per acre increase in corn yields alone.  Just think of the impact when we consider the increased productivity achieved from soybeans and cereal crops, too!

To quote LaVigne, “It is because of farmers and the research being done by universities, USDA and seed companies that our nation has an abundant, safe and affordable food supply.”  The United States is a global leader in agriculture and is a model for other countries trying to develop a safe and scientific process for regulatory approvals.

Instead of condemning our nation’s efforts – and the efforts of seed researchers – we should acknowledge the role American agriculture is playing in feeding the world.  Instead of criticizing, we should encourage future seed innovations.