Preserving the Environment

Can Tiny Seeds Be the Answer to This Big Farming Dilemma?

September 9, 2014
by
Menu
Can Tiny Seeds Be the Answer to This Big Farming Dilemma?
Four companies are said to control half of all commercial seed supplies in the U.S. Scott Olson/Getty Images
For the advocacy group Seed Matters, diversity is the solution to potential agriculture woes.

Diversity isn’t just a hot topic when it comes to race relations. It’s also important when talking about seeds.

Currently, our country suffers from a lack of seed diversity. Four companies control 50 percent of the entire commercial seed supply and many crops are highly genetically homogenous, according to Fast Company. For instance, American corn only stems from three or four parent lines.

And while this isn’t a problem in normal situations, it’s very dangerous if there’s an outbreak of disease, pests or extreme weather. In the event that one of these situations were to occur, American crops would be extremely susceptible to widespread loss due to the lack of diversity.

“An insurance policy against climate change is breeding for diversity,” Dillon tells Fast Company. “As we get a more chaotic climate, it’s very important to have greater diversity in our food crops, so they are resilient enough to withstand unpredictable diseases that are already starting to appear.”

That’s why Dillon started the advocacy group Seed Matters: to spread the news about seed diversity and its benefits. And thanks to the $1 million donation from the Clif Bar Family Foundation, Seed Matters was able to hit the ground running. Since its formation, 15 other companies have joined forces with them, including the supermarket chain Whole Foods and clothing company Eileen Fisher.

So, what does the group do? Well, according to their website, they are telling the “greatest story never told.” Seed Matters sponsors organic farming research, helps start seed banks and libraries in communities across the country and spreads the word out about the importance of seeds.

While it’s impossible to deny the success of modern agriculture (because of efficient practices, food is being produced at cheap rates relative to income), the ends may not justify the means. Why? Because to achieve these results, farmers often use too many chemicals and forget the traditional farming practices that are successful and environmentally sustainable.

One such modern trend is genetically modified (GM) food. Billions of dollars are spent on GM research, while only 1/70th of that is invested looking for alternative practices.

According to Dillon, we might just want to take a step back before we venture into the land of Frankenfood and instead use practices such as plant breeding, crop rotations and a better husbandry of seed varieties to build a natural resistance without harming the environment. Basically, do things that would be a win-win for every group involved.

Dillon isn’t alone in the advocacy of seeds and alternative farming methods. Many universities, specifically Cornell University, have begun to study organic practices. And there’s a flourishing group of organic seed supporters, too. A PBS show airing this fall documents this movement with Dillon as one of its featured advocates.

For Dillon, this represents a chance to better educate consumers and improve the food we eat at the same time. “There has been a farm-to-table movement, where knowing your farmer is a good thing,” Dillon says.“But there’s this prologue to that story that consumers don’t quite know. That’s the impact that seed has on their food and the world.”

MORE: How Salvaging the Food in Your Own Backyard Can Help Your Community and the Environment

Comments