Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Seed Industry ~ Part 1

This is the time of year, for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, when Seed and Plant catalogs begin to arrive in the mail. How easily we can be mesmerized by the gorgeous palette of colors and the luscious greens. Especially when we look out our window and see snow and ice covering the landscape.

The varieties of plants seem to be endless in those catalogs - but if you will notice, the catalogs are all beginning to carry the same plants. The diversity of plants and seeds that are available to the public is dwindling. Why?

Because the top seed companies now control about a third of the worldwide seed trade. As these giant companies buy out smaller companies, only top selling plant varieties are kept. It is the open-pollinated, heirloom varieties that are most often dropped from the sales list. These companies only want to sell the plants that they own. And yes, it is possible for a company to own a plant.

Laws were passed in 1930 and 1970 allowing certain plants to be patented on the basis of their genetic coding. Now anyone who grows a patented variety without holding a license from the patent holder can be sued.

Farmers and Gardeners traditionally saved seeds to grow next year's crop. But if the plant variety is patented, then the seed saving is illegal. And seeds collected from hybrid plants do not always grow true to the parent plant. A throwback to a genetic ancestor may grow from one of the seeds. Fresh patented seeds must be purchased every year. Thus causing the cost of seeds to rise. And quite frequently a Farmer must raise a certain type of plant because the cannery they sell to requires it.

Tomorrow, what we can do to Save Our Seeds.
If you would like to read more on the Seed Industry, Click Here.


Jennifer MacNeill-Traylor said...

I learned about what you're talking about last night when I watched the doc Food Inc., very scary! I have been drooling over the seed catalogs coming in the mail though.

Grace said...

Great post. I read an article saying how many varieties of apples and beans used to be available and now its just a comparative few. I'm going to make a real effort to plant my garden with heirloom seeds this year.

magikalseasons said...

Oh I know what you mean! I only grow organic and buy organic non GMO seeds. There are some wonderful companies who I adore who are commited to organic and heirloom varieties. One of my very favorites is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. You can find them at
There catalog is wonderful!
I can't wait to start my seeds. I had 24 types of tomatoes. The deer ate most and left me with 8. This year I have to have a fence. Can't wait for spring! :) Becca

Suzie said...

You are touching on a subject that makes me want to get out my soapbox, but I'll restrain myself this time.

I'm restricted by ordinances where I live now, but I used to have a totally native plant habitat, with woodland plants in the shaded areas, and prairie or savannah natives in the sunny spots, and the bees, butterflies, birds and small mammals loved it!

Now I look for native, or heirloom species of trees, shrubs and perennials, making sure that they are non-invasive to my area.

Fortunately for me, there is a wonderful native plant nursery right here in Michigan, just a few hours away, and one of my local nurseries not only stocks some of the basic natives, but specializes in heirloom veggies!

Also, check with your local nature centers, because many of them host plant sales each Spring, and sometimes in Autumn too, selling plants that benefit your area.

If you google "Native Plant Nurseries", you'll hopefully find one that is close to your region.

There are also heirloom seed and plant companies that are small, but thriving, with our help! It sometimes takes a little searching, but is so worth it!!

I'm anxious to read what else you have to say about saving our seeds!!

Thanks so much for bringing up this topic, when we are all being hypnotized by those glossy catalogs!

The Frog Queen said...

What a great post. When not completely obsessed with Halloween I love to garden. And I enjoy finding new plants that work well in my area....the native plant nurseries are my favorite.

I have to say that the story of the seed companies just makes my head hurt :) We have a group of gardners in our area that get together ever spring and share our heirloom seeds. It is one of my favorite events to host.


motheralice said...

Thanks so much for sharing this! I generally try to buy organic heirloom seed (generally sturdier stock than the other stuff anyway) and non engineered. Also I aim for plants that are native species. Thank you for reminding me why I'm going to all the trouble!

Bridgett said...

I just recently read about this and I'm horrified.

What can we do?