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c-land seeds

C-land seeds

Demand for regionally adapted and regionally-produced seed in the Upper Midwest will continue to grow as consumers re-invest in local and self-produced sources of food. In order to meet this demand, farm-scale seed savers will have an opportunity to professionalize their seed work and step up to contract seed production. Organic Seed Alliance will continue to partner with farmers in the region to support skill development in seed production, seed business and the cultural elements of seed work.

For this project, the participating farmers selected five seed crops to fit their markets, production capacity and climatic constraints: Tomato, Kale, Squash, Potato and Carrot. Tomato is a very common crop for beginning seed producers. Because most tomato varieties do not easily cross, growers can be relatively certain of the genetic purity of the seed. Furthermore, the seed ripens in the flesh of the fruit where it is somewhat protected from seed-borne disease, and relatively easy to extract and clean. Squash is similarly straight forward, though it is an out-crossing crop, requiring significant isolation distance or pollinator management. Kale and carrot are more difficult because they are biennial crops, and dry seeded so they are more vulnerable to the effects of humidity. Seed potatoes are difficult to produce disease-free in this climate, but there is a high demand for locally grown seed potato tubers, so the project partners wanted to experiment with this crop.

A sustainable food system depends on a seed system that is decentralized, robust, and responsive to farmers’ needs. Over the last 100 years, seed systems have become consolidated and corporatized, with 3 global companies now owning over 65% of the world’s agricultural plant genetic resources (Organic Seed Alliance, State of Organic Seed Report, 2016). Farmer-driven plant breeding, coupled with local seed production and marketing, relocates control of seed in farmers’ hands. As the climate changes and consumer preferences evolve, regional seed systems and collaborative plant breeding allow farmers to adapt crops to their unique and shifting circumstances, and to keep the revenue of seed sales circulating locally. This model of a decentralized, regional, collaborative seed system allows farmers more power in their seed choices compared to a system that depends on large agricultural companies to meet farmer needs and benefit from the resulting profit. There is a resurgence of interest in on-farm seed production and breeding in the Midwest as a means to counter these trends in industry consolidation and to reinvigorate robust regional seed systems.

References

Erica Kempter, Nature and Nurture Seeds

Dry-Seeded Crops

Most of the project partners grew out 1-2 varieties of these crops, and North Circle seeds produced all of them. The varieties were chosen based on adaptation to the Upper Midwest climate (discerned from previous production, selection or trialling history), as well as the variety’s “averageness” or closeness to what is generally considered the archetype for that crop (eg. large red slicer tomato). Each partner recorded their labor and expenses in producing the crop, which were used to assess the fitness of that crop for each farm system and to guide pricing for the seeds. Tables A, B and C include the information growers tracked in order to create basic enterprise budgets of the seed crops they grew. Table A outlines the activities farmers included in their labor tracking. For repeated activities such as weeding and watering, some growers chose to use the labor tracking sheets in Appendix D. Table B includes information used to calculate the cost of equipment and supplies used, prorated per crop. Because all the growers used minimal mechanization to produce seed, they chose not to worry about equipment depreciation in their reporting, but a larger more mechanized operation would likely include depreciation in their calculations. Table C was used to calculate the cost of land used to produce the seed crop, also prorated per crop. To calculate the total cost of production, we added the totals for each of these and then added a 10% overhead fee to account for various costs associated with marketing and business management. Together, all these costs gave us an estimate cost of production.

General Trends

Clint Freund, midwest seed grower and proprietor of Cultivating the Commons in Milaca, MN, recommends experimenting with growing seed crops that you really like working with, rather than tailoring crop choices to potential markets. Curiosity and a natural inclination toward the crop will pull you through the many rounds of trial and error that lead to competence in seed production, while an intellectual understanding of a “market opportunity” might not provide the same motivation. Getting really good at producing some seed crops can help solidify your relationships with seed company buyers, and help growers generate the confidence they will need to eventually take on crops that are harder to produce.

As farmers’ awareness of the importance of regional seed systems grows, so does the demand for regionally adapted varieties and regionally produced seed. The COVID-19 pandemic gave an unexpected boost to that demand, as a population suddenly stuck at home developed a strong appetite for gardening and homesteading. Nature and Nurture Seeds, based in Ann Arbor, MI, reported a sales increase of 400-500% in April of 2020 over the previous year, and that level of demand appears consistent with seed sales in 2021 . Given the surge in demand, seed companies are in need of more seed growers and are often willing to help guide beginning seed growers in producing their first commercial contracts. The goal of this report is to provide prospective seed growers in the Upper Midwest with some baseline economic and production information to consider when exploring a potential shift into commercial seed production.

As the first professional seed establishment in America, Landreth’s has helped grow the gardens that have fed generations. It is our sincerest pleasure to bring the joy, pride, and confidence of a crop well-tended and meal home-grown to new and experienced gardeners alike.

Whether you’re a first-season grower or a seasoned gardener, we’re gratified to share something novel to tend and to taste in these especially recommended heirloom seed collections.

The call of the garden is a never-ceasing impulse in the mind of everyone who can control a suitable piece of land, there being in the minds of all an inclination to plant seeds, to cultivate, and aid nature in producing, what might almost be said, something from nothing.

– From the Landreth’s Garden Seeds 1915 catalogue