October 31, 2014
New Report Finds Farmers Harmed by Decline in Nation’s Public Seed Supply
Contact: Juli Obudzinski, (202) 547-5754, firstname.lastname@example.org
October 31, 2014, Washington, DC — A much-anticipated analysis of the state of our country’s plant and animal breeding infrastructure and seed supply was released today, marking the first such analysis in over ten years. The proceedings from the Summit on Seeds and Breeds for 21st Century Agriculture were published today by the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), a farmer-based non-profit organization based in Pittsboro, NC and member of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC).
In the proceedings, RAFI and other key stakeholders within the agricultural research community express their increased concerns about farmers’ limited access to seed, the narrowing of our country’s agricultural plant and animal genetic diversity, consolidation within the seed industry, the decline in public cultivar development, and how these trends are impacting farmers’ abilities to confront the unprecedented challenges of climate change and global food security.
“Everything starts with seeds, and the continued growth of sustainable and organic agriculture and local, healthy food systems across the country – along with farmers’ ability to meet the challenges of climate change and food security – depends on this critical first building block,” says Juli Obudzinski, Senior Policy Specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
“Over the past 25 years, there has been a steady decline in investment in public sector breeding programs housed primarily within our nation’s land grant university system and USDA research facilities,” Obudzinski continues. “This slow atrophy of public funding to support improved plant varieties means that farmers have been left with fewer and fewer seed choices over the years and are ill-prepared to meet 21st century needs. For example, farmers in many regions of the country currently rely on seeds that were bred for other regions of the country or that no longer meet changing climatic growing conditions and pest and disease pressures. Without renewed funding for the development of publicly available plant varieties, our farmers will be at a competitive disadvantage.”
Key findings from the proceedings include:
In response to these mounting challenges, the proceedings put forth the following key recommendations for action:
The proceedings released today capture the discussion from a two-day summit held in Washington, DC in March 2014. The summit brought together over 35 breeders, researchers, farmers, academics, and representatives of germplasm banks and non-profit organizations to discuss the state of our nation’s seed supply and develop recommendations for reinvigorating public breeding research and increasing seed availability in the country.
“The challenges we face in our U.S. and global food systems urgently require us to shift our focus toward building greater resilience into our agricultural systems,” says Michael Sligh, the Just Foods Program Director with the Rural Advancement Foundation International. “Our current systems are too genetically uniform and have far too short cropping rotations – thus leaving our agricultural systems very vulnerable.”
The proceedings include 8 scientific papers authored by well-known breeders and researchers in the field, including Bill Tracy, a sweet corn breeder with the University of Wisconsin; Major Goodman, a corn breeder with North Carolina State University; Michael Mazourek, a vegetable breeder with Cornell University; David Ellis, the head of the Genebank Unit at the International Potato Center in Peru; and Charles Brummer, the Senior Vice President Director of Forage Improvement at the Noble Foundation.
The former Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Kathleen Merrigan, also presented a paper discussing the unique opportunities for galvanizing public and political support for this issue.
NSAC and RAFI are both members of the Seeds and Breeds for 21st Century Agriculture Coalition, a collaborative that advocates for increased support for public sector plant and animal breeding research, which has slowly atrophied over the past 25 years.
Further commentary is available on NSAC’s blog; the full report and executive summary can be downloaded for free on RAFI’s website.
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