Hawaii’s Seed Crops Experience Exponential Growth

Last Friday guests of Latham Hi-Tech Seeds had the opportunity to visit Monsanto’s research and production operations based in Kihei, Maui.

Move over sugar cane, pineapples and tropical flowers…  seed crops are now the highest value commodity in Hawaiian agriculture.  The value of Hawaii’s seed industry set a new record high of $247.2 million for the 2010-2011 season.

Since its roots were established 40 years, Hawaii’s seed crop industry has experienced exponential growth.  Hawaii’s seed crop industry has grown an average of 14% in value since 1968.  The seed industry serves as one of state’s few stable sectors for jobs, according to a study commissioned by the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation.  The seed crop industry provides 22.7% of all agricultural jobs in the state.

Hawaii’s seed crop industry also contributes substantially to the state’s public policy objectives:

  • Economic diversification
  • Maintaining prime lands for ag use with any incentive to convert these lands to alternative use
  • Creating hi-tech jobs

The rapid adoption of hi-tech crops has also fueled growth of Hawaii’s seed crop industry.  Its climate allows research operations to play a critical role in the development of new corn hybrids.  Farms fields on Maui can produce up to four crops in just one calendar year!  That means a new hybrid can be developed in about half the time it would take if a seed company relied solely on more temperate growing conditions found on the continental U.S.

Last Friday Paul Koehler and David Stoltzfus who work for Monsanto in Kihei, Maui, explained to a group from Latham Hi-Tech Seeds the key role Hawaii plays in hybrid development:

1st generation (parent seed increase) in Hawaii
0.3 acres of parent line increase planted in Hawaii, harvested and planted again

Second generation (parent seed increase) grown in Hawaii
35 acres of parent seed increase, harvested and sent to South America

Hybrid seed production grown in South America
3,500 acres of hybrid seed production planted in South America, harvested and sent to North America

Hybrid seed sent to North America
600,000 acres of hybrid seed planted in North America as a full-scale commercial release

Developing new hybrids that help farmers produce more crops while conserving more natural resources is going to be critical to meet growing global demands.  The world’s population is expected to grow by 40% in the next few decades.  That means farmers will need to grow as much food in the next 50 years as they did in the past 10,000 years combined!

And that’s why seed companies like Latham and Monsanto are on a mission to help farmers produce higher yields.  It’s also why Monsanto invests more than $3 million a day on R&D. As a result of these investments, Genuity® products are providing increased yields, reducing chemicals into our water supply and helping to feed a growing population