Seeds - Navigating Through Challenges

The seeds industry is faced with many challenges, including regulatory changes affecting the processing and availability of domestically-produced seed varieties, as well as the increasing footprint of global competition for limited export opportunities. And while these factors are not new to the agriculture industry, they have been intensified by a declining global economy triggered by overproduction in a number of key agricultural commodities that has reduced demand. 


We explore some of these challenges in this post: what they mean to both producers and consumers; how we can work together to address them; and what we need to do now to make sure Ontario's agricultural sector continues thriving into the future. 


Consumer Challenges 


There are a few fundamental things about seeds that put them at the centre of consumer concerns, including health, food security and environmental protection. Here are examples of both how these concerns relate to seeds and how they impact the agricultural sector. 


For example, when processed foods contain ingredients that have been genetically modified (GM) or are derived from genetically modified organisms (GMO), consumers often want to know if GM ingredients are in their food. GMOs have been used in agriculture for years now, going back to the mid 1980s, so any time a consumer purchases a product with an ingredient they've never heard of before, there's a chance it was derived from GM seed. In the same vein, some people prefer food from organic farms that have not been treated with pesticides or other chemicals. 


It's important for consumers to understand that there is no scientific proof that GM products are harmful to health. As a seed company committed to sustainability, we believe that seed companies and farmers should be allowed to continue using the seeds they think are best for their operations, and farmers should be allowed to make their own business decisions about how they grow their crops. 


Producer Challenges 


While seeds may seem like a small part of the agricultural production chain, it touches all aspects of our economy and is essential for food production. Seeds can dramatically reduce the costs of production for farmers, and this impacts how much food people are able to afford. For example, a 2010 Farm Foundation study found that increased yields from crop genetics improved food security by about 50 per cent in developing countries. In Canada, a number of studies have shown that agricultural productivity increased by between $30 and $50 per acre when farmers used new technology such as precision farming or herbicide-tolerant seed varieties. 


Along with the production benefits seeds bring to farmers, there's also an environmental benefit: reducing waste and protecting the environment from soil erosion and runoff. These environmental benefits are distributed unevenly, which is why many people are interested in importing an increased amount of local seed. Producing local seed is both sustainable and an efficient use of resources, as it uses less fuel, relies on fewer land parcels and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. World-wide, more than 1 million hectares of land are devoted to growing crops for seed production. 


In addition to environmental benefits, the Canadian seeds industry has created thousands of high-quality jobs in Canada and produces much needed export revenue for farmers. In 2007 alone, Canadian seed exports stood at $1.4 billion – up from $1 billion just four years earlier – making it the country's largest agricultural export after wheat and barley. 


Seed production in Canada has also led to more jobs in the more traditional areas of agriculture, such as engineering, finance, marketing and distribution, storage and transportation. In direct employment terms, the seed industry now employs about 6,000 Canadians – one in five of all agriculture jobs nationwide. 


Collaboration is Key 


What follows are some recommendations from a growing group of stakeholders who see the potential for collaboration between farmers, seeds companies and consumers to address these challenges: 


Recognize that GM products can be an important component of a diverse food system that includes organic foods. Provide consumers with both information about which foods have GM ingredients and which do not.

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