Securing food crop traits essential

As the world population increases each day, securing the international food supply becomes fundamentally important.

Agriculture depends on relatively few crops – only about 150 are cultivated on any significant scale worldwide. However, each comes in a vast range of different forms that pose challenges for the global agriculture industry.

The Global Crop Diversity Trust (The Trust) announced a major global project in December to systematically find, gather, catalog, use and save the wild relatives of essential food crops, to help protect global food supplies against the imminent threat of climate change and to strengthen future food security.

The Trust is a unique public-private partnership raising funds from individual, corporate and government donors to establish an endowment fund that will provide complete and continuous funding for key crop collections.

“Wild relatives” is terminology for non-domesticated crops that are genetically related to or are ancestors of a domesticated plant.

If actions aren’t taken to protect wild-crop seedlings, “These shortages can lead to loss of diversity, the very building blocks on which adaptive and productive agriculture depends,” states The Trust.

“All of our crops were originally developed from wild species—that’s how farming began,” said Cary Fowler, executive director of The Trust.

“Wild relatives typically contain characteristics such as heat or drought tolerance, disease resistance or the ability to thrive in saline soils, which can permit the adaptation of crops to a far wider range of environments and stresses. As they have traits allowing them to be successful at the current extremes of a crop’s range and beyond, wild relatives can be extremely important contributors to our ability to adapt crops to climate change.”

They also contribute to the development of strengthening future commercial crops against attacks from pests and diseases.

The contribution of crop wild relatives has been estimated by one study to be worth more than $115 billion worldwide.
Many wild crops are inadequately uncollected, and therefore unevaluated and unavailable to plant breeders and farmers.

Many are also at risk of extinction, because of destruction and degradation of their natural environments, such as deforestation, desertification and climate change.

For example, an outbreak of grassy stunt virus in the 1970s, which prevents the rice plant from flowering and producing grain, decimated rice harvests in Asia. Scientists from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) screened more than 10,000 samples of wild and locally cultivated rice plants for resistance to the disease and found it in a wild relative, Oryza nivara, growing in India. The gene has since been incorporated into most new varieties since the discovery to help safeguard this crop.

Alfalfa, bambara groundnut, banana, barley, bean, chickpea, cowpea, faba bean, finger millet, grasspea, lentil, oat, pea, pearl millet, pigeon pea, potato, rice, rye, sorghum, sunflower, sweet potato, vetch and wheat samples will be collected.

After collection has occurred, samples will be stored in national facilities, CGIAR centres, Millennium Seed Bank and in Svalbard Global Seed Vault for breeding of improved crop varities.

Farmers and researchers throughout the world are optimistic about what the project can do for the future of agriculture.

“Adapting agriculture to climate change is one of the most urgent challenges of our time. Climate change will cause agricultural production to drop substantially within just 20 years,” states The Trust.

Do you believe this is an important project? Should more or less be done in regards to crop security?

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Multi-generational farms offer various management styles

Multi-generational farming. For most farmers managing the family farm alongside grandparents, parents or children is a welcome opportunity – keeping that family history alive for future generations.

According to the U.S. EPA, there are about 2 million family farms in the U.S and while statistics indicate that the farm population is aging, there is an emergence of young people interested in farming again.

This swell of younger generational farming is great, but it can also cause a few challenges when working together with an older generation of farmers. For instance, what happens when one generation believes the other generation “just doesn’t get it” or that, “they have it so much easier than we did?”

An article in Farm and Dairy discusses this topic by breaking down the characteristics of the four generations currently in the workplace and notes that probably no other business realizes the challenge of generations working together more than farming.
  • Veterans (1922-1945) are hard workers, view work as an obligation and are usually more interested in working individually.
  • Baby boomers (1946-1964) view work as an adventure, are typically workaholics and would rather work together.
  • Generation X (1965-1980) is self-reliant, looks for structure and direction, tends to be entrepreneurial and views work as a challenge.
  • Millennials (1981-2000) value entrepreneurial opportunities, are very goal oriented, and want to participate in decisions and feel like they are a part of the farm.
The good thing to note is that there is a need for each of these generations on the farm. In fact, there’s quite a bit that they can learn from each other. Each generation of farmers has had significant events, individual influences and technological developments that have helped to shape who they are and what they value.

While understanding these generational differences may seem pretty trivial, they are often easily forgotten. It takes just a little understanding and patience to learn from one another. In the long-run it will be well-worth it to accept these differences for the benefit of maintaining a successful working farm.

Do you operate or work on a multi-generational farm? What do you think of multiple generations of farmers working together? Do you think they can learn from each other?

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Seed deserves royal treatment

Seed royalty – an entirely different business aspect to the agriculture industry that many aren’t aware of, despite the fact that the business of genetically engineered seed is of extreme importance.

The International Seed Federation (ISF) states it best – Seed is the basis of agriculture.

“Apart from its traditional role of being one of the major contributors to sustainable food production, the seed industry is now also at the forefront of developing technological innovations and alternative uses for plants as renewable sources of bio-energy, bio-materials and plants that will provide food and feed of increased nutritional and even medicinal value to humans and animals.”

Engineered seed is responsible for producing crop varieties that are disease, drought, pest and chemical resistant to make farming less of a financial risk for the producer and more dependable for the consumer.

Seed royalties protect the intellectual property of plant breeders and vary among countries.

As stated by the British Society of Plant Breeders:

“Developing varieties is an expensive business, requiring major upfront investment in people, technology and facilities. Research and development takes place throughout many years.

“The ongoing process of crop improvement is funded through a system of intellectual property similar to the protection offered via copyright on books, CDs and DVDs.

Plant breeders are awarded a form of intellectual property, known as Plant Breeders’ Rights, on each new variety. Licensing the use of this intellectual property allows royalties to be collected when a protected variety is produced and sold as certified seed, or when it is used as farm-saved seed.”

With most royalty mechanisms, the collection on most crops are collected at the point of the seed sale, while the end-point royalty is applied on the grain produced from the purchased seed.

To determine the effectiveness of the global seed-royalty process by country, ISF is studying the processes used by multiple countries.

Collection systems used around the globe
  • Patents for transgenics (a subset of GMOs)
  • Plant Variety Protection to protect the use of the variety, however does not protect the genes of the variety
  • Contract law
  • Biological properties—for example, in a hybrid—will only provide a collection benefit in the first generation of the hybrid
  • Trade secrets—keeping it secret from everyone; if you apply for a patent you have to publish your research. The breeder can then license the technology to others with a contract to use the technology, but not disclose the patent information
Seed protection varies according to the technical, legal and socio-economic status of a country.

“Some legislation in Europe allows the breeder to directly contact the farmer who is saving seed and those farmers are required to pay for doing that and it works in Europe,” said Frank Curtis, chairman of the ISF Royalties Working Group and vice president of Limagrain Cereal Seeds in a Seed World story.

“However, that is not possible in countries such as Canada, where plant breeders’ rights are based on older legislation.”

Poland is another example of how countries royalty collection mechanisms vary.

“In Poland, if you farm less than a certain size, for example, 10 hectares, you are therefore exempt from paying royalties,” said Curtis.

ISF organized countries in rank from best to worst seed-royalty collection systems:

  1. Sweden
  2. Denmark
  3. United Kingdom
  4. Ireland
  5. Finland
A complete report summary of ISF’s research will be available near the end of 2011. It will be interesting if America’s seed-royalty collection system alters based from this research.

Do you agree with established seed-royalty systems? Are better collection systems available? Is it fair for the farmer?

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Preparing the farm for winter weather

Some people believe that once crops have been harvested in the fall, farmers can sit back and relax until the spring. However, there are a few things that farmers need to do after the harvest to prepare their farm for the winter months.

Making sure the farm is “winter ready” can be extremely beneficial. For instance, winterizing farm equipment can reduce start-up time in the spring, extend the life of the equipment and allow for a higher re-sale value.

Likewise, farmers also need to prepare their farm animals for the harsh winter months. Keeping animals safe, warm and well fed during the winter is essential to their health and well being. provides tips about how to winterize farm equipment and prepare farm animals for the winter.

Farm Equipment
  • Give all equipment an oil change to prevent corrosion. Change air filters and fuel filters. Completely fill gas tanks to prevent water from accumulating in the tank.
  • Lubricate the bearings and joints on equipment to maximize their lifespan.
  • Check the equipment’s antifreeze for the correct freezing temperatures. (The composition of fluid in the radiator should be 50 percent water and 50 percent antifreeze).
  • Enhance the life of the belts by reducing tension.
  • Minimize sidewall damage to tires by inflating them to the recommended pressure in the owner's manual.
  • Clean planters, combines, air seeders and drills.
  • Remove soil from tillage equipment. Follow with an application of rust-proof compound.
  • Store equipment in a protected building or shelter.
Farm Animals
  • Make sure pens are located in an area where animals will be protected from harsh winds.
  • Clean pen floors daily or design it in a way that it drains properly.
  • Add one solid wall to the pen if there isn't one already. This provides a windbreak.
  • Lay down extra bedding for animals. Straw, tree bark or wood shavings provide a soft surface to sleep on as well as additional insulation.
  • Feed your animals more than usual in the winter. Animals exposed to harsh winter weather need extra calories.
  • Check the water trough every day. The water supply should be designed in a way that prevents freezing in the liner.
  • Remove any icy buildup in or near the pen that could cause injury to the animals if they should fall on it.
  • Shovel or plow snow away from the pens. Never allow it to build up so much that the animals are trapped inside.
While some farmers may have harsher winter weather than others, it’s always best to be prepared for what Mother Nature dishes out sooner rather than later. It can save farmers time and money once the first signs of spring arrive.

Do you prepare your farm or home for the winter? What tasks do you make sure you have done before that first winter storm takes place?

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