Seed World

Why the Spotlight is on Sustainability in the International Seed Sector

Lauren Comin, Seeds Canada Regulatory Affairs Manager

I had my first opportunity to attend International Seed Federation (ISF) interim meetings of the coordination groups at the beginning of November. The meetings were held in Rome, Italy, and this certainly wasn’t just for the numerous gelato shops alone (although this did influence my enthusiasm to attend).

Lauren Comin, Seeds Canada Regulatory Affairs Manager

Besides gelato, pasta and the Pope, Rome is also home to the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. On the morning of our Environmental, Ethical and Social Responsibility (EESR) ISF coordination group meeting, we had the opportunity to attend the opening ceremony of the FAO’s First Global Conference on Sustainable Plant Production.

ISF Secretary General Michael Keller delivered one of the morning’s keynote speeches, highlighting the importance of seed.

The sustainability story for seed has two branches. The first is a very “good news” story that we need to be prepared to tell. As Michael stated in his keynote speech, the journey to sustainability starts with seed.

Genetics, delivered as seed, can contribute to both adaptation to a changing environment and mitigation of further changes. Because of the way seed is developed and commercialized, each year Canadian farmers have access to new varieties that are adapted to the growing conditions of today.

Scientists are able to access the plant’s genome and optimize traits present, including nitrogen use efficiency, root architecture, photosynthetic capability, drought tolerance and more. New plant breeding innovations are opening the door to even more power.

In collaboration with pest and climate modelling, scientists can get a jumpstart, tailoring the plant’s genetics to resist, and even thrive, amidst predicted biotic and abiotic stressors. More crops, with higher quality, can be produced faster with similar or smaller footprints with new breeding technologies than they could without.

But, as a new Royal Bank of Canada special report points out, regulatory requirements can act as barriers to deployment of genetic innovation. Developers need to be able to use new innovations and farmers need to be granted access to them.

The second branch of the seed sustainability story requires some work and adoption of new best practices. Just like crop production, seed production is a contributor to emissions. As new production practices are developed in the quest to achieve sustainability, the seed sector needs to pay attention and follow suit.

Land use, water use and labour will all need to be optimized to ensure the least possible negative impact on society and the environment. Sustainably produced seed will be required to feed into a sustainable crop production system, as a part of a finished product’s lifecycle.

The spotlight on sustainability in our sector is not fading away. In fact, as I write this, ISF is representing the seed sector at the United Nation’s Climate Change Conference COP27, in Cairo, Egypt.

Seed is certainly not a silver bullet; we won’t achieve our global goals with seed innovation alone. But rest assured, we have a good story to tell and many opportunities to contribute.