BLOG: Sowing a More Collaborative Seed Industry 

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You may think of a seed as tiny and insignificant. Don’t be fooled: its impact on global agriculture is immense. The seed industry is constantly balancing innovation with bringing value to growers. New technologies offer exciting opportunities for both investors and growers. At the same time, they are only as valuable as their benefits to growers. 

Innovating, on its own, is not enough. The industry must focus on grower needs to achieve meaningful progress. Understanding the challenges faced by growers and creating solutions needs to be the priority. Here’s an easy example. If growers don’t struggle with a particular fungal disease, why should seed companies spend resources developing resistant varieties or chemical companies create a fungicide? 

I spent the first week of June in Cape Town for the @International Seed Federation’s World Seed Congress. Conferences are powerful moments for companies to come together and discuss industry-wide hurdles. They provide a platform for true collaboration, with insights from diverse stakeholders in attendance. This year, my main takeaway was the importance of a global dialogue to steer collective progress. I’ll explore what this looks like in the seed industry below.   


Establishing a global voice for the seed industry 

The seed industry’s power stems from its international nature. It comprises growers, local/regional and multinational companies, and regulators from nearly every country. Because of its worldwide significance, the industry must have a voice on the global stage. Seeds play a central role in essential topics like food security and sustainability. Many industry actors work with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in mind. However, they need a platform to exchange information and share progress. Without a voice on the global stage, many actors end up working on the same topics. While the intentions may be bold, a lack of communication can result in wasted money and, more importantly, time.  

Which stakeholders shape the seed industry’s global voice? The same ones attending sector events. Think of NGOs, global organizations, government actors, companies, and growers. When these parties come together for open discussions, incredible things happen.  I cannot emphasize the importance of industry events enough. They were sorely missed during the pandemic. While they are fantastic at showcasing the diversity of the industry, their focus on similarities is equally essential. Many growers in diverse locations face similar issues. What may appear like a minor “fix” in one region can in many cases be applied in a much bigger way in other regions.


Why global efforts matter 

Many parts of the world are starting to be protective of their borders. There is an emphasis on reducing imports to grow national economies. In agriculture, more governments are moving toward requiring “locally produced” seed. This may seem like a way to create local employment and reduce the risk of seed-borne diseases entering the country. But in reality, it reduces grower options. Requirements like these limit or even sometimes eliminate specific seed availability. It can also apply undue pressure on national seed producers. There are many examples of this in potatoes. While local production limits soil-borne diseases by preventing potentially diseased imports, it also limits access to better (and new) varieties. It also concentrates the production of a small group or even a single variety. A lack of diversity then creates a risk that a variety-specific pest/disease could wipe out an entire crop. It leaves growers vulnerable with few alternatives.


Pioneering a sector-wide dialogue on food security 

Food security remains a priority for the entire seed industry. It’s vital to note: many issues of food insecurity are not about growers but rather about market access. Access is an issue from both the downstream and upstream points of view. 

  • Upstream, innovators need to align with regulatory authorities. Readily available information and open communication channels are essential. Implementing more collaboration opportunities will prevent solutions to critical issues from being blocked by non-science-based rules. 
  • Downstream, growers, processors, food brokers, retailers, and consumers must express their needs and desires. This returns to my earlier point. Why create innovations that are not needed? A better dialogue will support upstream players and innovators in delivering the best products and supporting food security. 
  • In the middle, the infrastructure must support the effective flow of seed/food and feed products. Current infrastructure (roads/storage/processing/etc.) can only sometimes keep up with demand. These inefficient systems result in crop reduction or loss. Unfortunately, this directly contributes to food insecurity.

Solynta’s dedication to the seed industry 

I’ve always felt that the Solynta team has a foot in the seed and potato industries. We’re dedicated to moving fast and delivering innovation. At the same time, we listen closely to growers and partner with organizations like Incotec, PepsiCo, and FreshCrop and others to ensure our products meet stakeholder and farmers’ needs. Change isn’t bad, but it reaps the most benefits as part of a global effort.  

We welcome more individuals and companies to join on this journey. Whether you’re a farmer, startup, or civil servant, feel welcome to DM me or leave a comment to connect. Our industry thrives on international collaboration. If you’re curious about Solynta’s work in the seed industry, I had the privilege of joining Marcel Bruins from Seed World for a conversation on Solynta’s revolutionary approach to hybrid potato breeding. You can watch the video here. 


* This BLOG was written and published by Charles Miller, Director of Strategic Alliances and Development at Solynta.

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