Most of us probably don’t give a second thought to the vegetable seed industry, but I can tell you that in my business, seed companies are extremely important.
There are trade groups, such as the American Seed Trade Association, and there are the big seed companies, like Syngenta, Monsanto and Nunhems. There are also niche seed companies such as Stokes Seeds, Paramount Seeds, Corona Seeds, Seedway, Seeds by Design and Siegers Seed Co. — just to name a few.
I’ve mentioned before that I read some pretty crazy publications in my work, and as I was catching up on my stack last weekend, I came across the June issue of American Vegetable Grower Magazine. I was fascinated with an article on the future of the vegetable seed industry, so I wanted to share some highlights from it.
What trends are driving the vegetable seed industry?
Global food demand is right there on top. The farmers who grow the food we eat are part of an amazing patchwork of food producers across the world. As the world’s population grows, plant science plays a vital role in meeting the global food demand. Other trends include plant disease problem solving and developing seeds that produce superior tasting foods. (Taste is always No. 1 in my book.) In addition, new and unique vegetable varieties — think maroon carrots and purple snow peas — is another trend driving today’s seed industry.
What do growers look for in new seed varieties?
Farmers want to grow foods that are disease- and insect-resistant. Did you know that seed companies play an important role by developing varieties that will reduce the need for pesticides, herbicides and insecticides? And some seeds will grow better in different climates and soil types. Companies are busy developing a corn variety for grain that grows in Iowa, which will be completely different than the fresh corn grown in Northern California.
What are the biggest challenges for the vegetable seed industry now?
Consolidation in the grower community is a major challenge. Consolidation happens when companies join together, so that instead of a group of small growers, you might have only one VERY LARGE grower. So, when a seed company approaches a commercial grower with something innovative, it’s often more difficult to reach the decision makers.
(It’s the same phenomenon that we have seen in the supermarket business. Many of us only have two or three large supermarket companies in our area, when we used to have six or eight. This makes it more challenging for food suppliers like Frieda’s and offers consumers fewer choices.)
The good news is that just as consolidation is happening in all segments of business, it is cyclical. There are always entrepreneurs who are not satisfied with the status quo and launch their own companies. That’s how Frieda’s ended up with seedless watermelons. (A small company a few decades ago pioneered this now-mainstream product.)
So, now when you go to the market and pick out your fresh veggies, you might think twice about how they got there.
And now you know!