Diversification is a central tenet of any good risk management plan, whether applied to business and finance, or food and farming. In agriculture, biological diversity is key to ensuring success: having a variety of well-adapted crops not only reduces the impacts of extreme weather, pests, and disease, it also protects against price fluctuations in the market. Today, however, we are increasingly losing diversity where it counts the most – our seed stocks.
Historically, control over our national seed stocks and breeding research laid in the hands of our country’s farmers and land-grant institutions. However, over the last several decades, the development of our seeds, the foundation of our national food supply, has become increasingly consolidated and privatized. Because our investment in public plant breeding has not kept pace with the expansion of privatized research, innovation and growth has been stifled, our national seed stocks and breeding research has become less diverse, and our food supply less secure.
By supporting publically plant breeding research, we can better ensure that all farmers have access to high performing, locally adapted seeds – no matter where they farm or what they grow. Expanding publically-supported, farmer-driven research and plant breeding will also give farmers more choice and control, allowing producers viable alternatives to privately-owned corporations, which typically focus less on breeding, and often prohibit the saving and replanting of their seeds through restrictive contracts and legal stipulations.
The farm bill should invest in the resiliency of our food system, expand opportunities for innovation and new markets, and bring choice and diversity back to agricultural research and seed breeding. By investing in farmers’ most foundational tool – the seed – we can help to ensure a sustainable and robust American food system for years to come. This bill should keep American agriculture competitive and resilient by: