Friday, December 30, 2016

Our Garden Seed Variety Limits

8 comments:

  1. Wow. Are the seeds of the varieties we don't use housed somewhere? Can the lost varieties ever be resurrected?

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  2. Andy, thanks for stopping by. Fortunately, many good people and small companies are preserving seeds these days, but I'll defer your question to the Baker Creek Heritage Seed experts, if they happen to see it.

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  3. Hey, this reminded me of a comment on the study I read in Stephen Brush's book (Farmer's Bounty). I was curious as to your opinion on it:

    "Fowler and Mooney (1990) show genetic erosion in the United States through a comparison of vegetable varieties found in U.S. Department of Agriculture lists from 1903 and 1983, which reveal that only 3 percent have survived. No doubt data storage is incomplete and sometimes inadequate, but comparing lists drawn up at different times and for different purposes is hardly proof of extinction"

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    1. This makes sense to me. Additionally, not all seed varieties are desirable varieties if yields are small or the plant has undesirable traits. Thankfully we have many great seed operations such as Seed Savers Exchange and work done by people like Gary Nabhan, and numerous others these days. Seeds are regional, too, so need to be preserved in regional-local climates so they can continue to adapt - as they always have in the past.

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  4. Tried to submit a comment earlier, apparently not human enough. -- Anyway, the graphic is misleading and I have to agree with Brush's observation. The graphic fails to account for the fact that farmers and seed breeders are constantly reworking crop varieties and giving them new names. We have more than 24 such projects on our farm, and when we achieve our goal, the variety is given a local name. Even well-managed open pollinated varieties contain a great deal of diversity in their genetic expression, not all of it beneficial which accounts for our breeding projects. Mutations, beneficial and deleterious, are a constant source of diversity. It is a fact that consolidation is the seed industry has reduced options for gardeners and farmers. On the other hand, newer seed companies are filling the void and in the 50 years I have been gardening, 20 as a commercial farm, the choices have expanded. In 1985 Seed Savers Exchange listed 3,453 unique varieties, in 2016 it was 16,422. The USDA National Genetic Resources Program holds about 500,000 accessions, including weeds which a class of cultivated plants. Anthony Boutard, Ayers Creek Farm

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    1. Anthony,

      I admire the work you continue to do - it is wonderful and very impressive to hear of your expanded seed varieties. And it is insightful to state that while the old seed company options have limited our choices, the new companies are making up for that.

      Are you familiar with the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed folks? They have also become regular readers here.

      Kudos!!! and Happy New Year!
      --Kay

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  5. Among the seed companies offering expanded selections are Fedco (Maine 1978), Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Virginia 1983), Sandhill Preservation (Iowa ~1990) Seed Savers Exchange (Iowa 1984), Baker Creek (Missouri 1998), Victory Seeds (Oregon 1999). They all market nationally but bear a regional accent. Baker Creek, out of principle, does not offer certified organic seeds, which makes their varieties unavailable to certified growers like us.

    One of the challenges these companies face as they expand is maintaining seed quality and integrity. Open pollinated seeds pose the classic problem identified by Hardin in 'The Tragedy of the Commons' (Science 1968). There is no mechanism to encourage investments in improving quality in the seed commons, varieties in the public domain. Plant varieties obey the law of entropy, moving from a highly ordered state to a less ordered feral state. Doing what comes naturally. Keeping a variety true to type takes money, time and expertise.

    An example. Six years ago we noticed our favorite chicory variety, Late Treviso, was becoming feral, with fewer salable heads (~25%) and many off-types. Rather than drop it, we decided to clean up the variety. We have spent thousands of dollars on the project dubbed 'Arch Cape' and next month we will harvest our third re-selection for our restaurant accounts. Chicory is a biennial, a common weed and is pollinated by wild bees, so keeping the variety true-to-type poses a particular challenge, entropy in constant pursuit. We have largely eliminated the off-types and should harvest about 95% of planting.

    Now we have to decide whether to maintain this as an on-farm, proprietary variety; easy and common among chicory growers because just the greens are sold. Or do we sell to a seed company, releasing our efforts into the seed commons. Perhaps we can register it as a Protected Plant Variety (PVP). We haven't decided. But this is a real case study of the challenges seed producers face in managing open pollinated varieties.

    I believe that plant varieties are akin to works of expression, not mere artifacts of nature, and a skillful assembly of traits needs some sort of limited copyright protection, no different than a book, a sculpture or song. That's my view. Anthony Boutard, Ayers Creek Farm

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    1. Thanks, again, Anthony, for you time here and for sharing your knowledge. Your example is interesting and serves to show us how much work and expertise happens behind the scenes related to seed refining.

      There is so much we take for granted when we pick up a packet of seeds. Many times I've been disappointed by a seed packet, too. It is a wasted season for a particular crop if the seeds aren't true to their package description/label. One standard I can use to evaluate a company is that I've had a white flower garden much of my life. Many white flower seeds are disappointments so when I find good reliable ones, I take note. I've been impressed with seeds from John Scheepers Kitchen Garden for white seeds and some vegetables, too.

      For readers unfamiliar with Anthony, here are 2 previous posts you might check out:

      https://bigpictureagriculture.blogspot.com/search?q=boutard

      He is the author of the book, "Beautiful Corn", which I own.

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