Monday, October 20, 2014

Farm Bill Free-For-All

As the reauthorization process of the farm bill resumes, seed industry leaders encourage stakeholders to stand shoulder to shoulder for ag.

The reauthorization of the farm bill, which expires this September, has veered far from its usual route. Last November, a farm bill proposal meeting its share of the deficit reduction package—$23 billion over 10 years—was submitted to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction by Agriculture Committee leaders. No details of this bill were released at the time of its writing, and the normal legislative process of hearings, negotiations and amendments was bypassed with the bill’s inclusion in the committee’s deficit reduction package, which was to be put to a simple up or down vote by Congress last December.

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Who's Counting?

The Global Crop Diversity Trust explores the challenges with global food production as the population keeps growing.

World population just surpassed the big round number of 7,000,000,000.

Mankind reached its first billion just as the 19th century got underway. That feat of fecundity required eons. It took us just 12 years, however, to tack on the last billion. We’re definitely on a roll.

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Seed SOS

Certain hybrids of seed supplies are limited this year, which is forcing seed companies to plan ahead for production and logistics.

"Every product year has its challenges, but 2011 was certainly one of the most challenging for the entire seed industry,” says John Latham, president of Latham Hi-Tech Seeds based in Alexander, Iowa. According to Latham, his territory “experienced extreme heat during corn pollination, excessive winds, literally hurricane-force winds, in July and August, plus an early frost on September 15. It’s no wonder seed supplies will be tight for corn and even some soybean products.”

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Entering the Future of Vegetable Breeding

“It’s a rediscovery of flavor and quality, a desire to reconnect with agriculture and know more about where food comes from and how it was grown,” says Michael Mazourek, professor of plant breeding at Cornell University. “Vegetables are essential for the quality of our nutrition and health. We need to make the most of the present, not disappoint [consumers], and hold their attention as long as we can.”

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Keeping Seed Safe

Few connections have been made between seed and the contamination of food, but seed industry members, who feel the impact of every food safety scare with decreased seed sales, are invested in improving traceability mechanisms—and continuing to keep seed safe.

Since the catastrophic E. coli spinach outbreak of 2006, which sickened hundreds and killed three, if you mention the word “E. coli” to a spinach seed grower they will likely turn a whiter shade of pale. In the wake of the outbreak, says Stokes Seeds president Wayne Gale, “We saw a dramatic drop in our spinach sales, and I know a number of other seed dealers saw huge drops for about a year or two.”

The E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak, which originated in the Salinas Valley in California, “was a disaster” for spinach growers, according to Gale. “People went broke. We even saw [the impact] up in Canada. [Produce] shipments were being refused. The contamination was on the West Coast but even East Coast sellers suffered dramatically,” he says...

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