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HONORING PLANT BREEDERS

Although Fedco catalogs bring together a collection of hundreds of plants that nourish our bodies and our spirits, we are only evaluators, popularizers and marketers. Plant breeders are the real creative geniuses.

Let us honor those who work with nature to help create the varieties we love: Quirky yet dedicated, intuitive yet patient, visionary yet practical, at once able to focus on the minutiae of plant growth while keeping sight of broad project objectives...without the Elywn Meaders, the James Baggetts, the Henry Mungers, the Gerald Marxs, the Calvin Lamborns, the Alan Kapulers, the Frank Mortons, and the Tim Peters, our world would truly be impoverished.

Earlier this century, fecund university research and plant breeding programs released thousands of improved cultivars to the public domain. Dedicated researchers freely traded ideas and germplasm around the world, cross-pollinating matter and spirit into new forms of life.

As the seed industry consolidates into fewer and fewer agribiz mega-units, interest in classical plant breeding gives way to emphasis on genetic engineering. As new varietal development becomes more and more privatized, cooperation and collegialty dissolve into competition and secrecy. The relationship between our universities and the seed industry alters. Profiteering on both sides brings complex licensing and patenting arrangements. The public is the loser.

As we reflect on our present predicament, let’s look backwards and forwards to profile a few of the great plant breeders of this century. Some, like Henry Munger, James Baggett and Elwyn Meader, came out of still vital university programs; others, born perhaps too late for the halcyon days at the universities, have chosen different paths to arrive at their life calling.

We hope these vignettes will stimulate you who plant seeds every year to reflect upon origins, and to inspire those few of you who might have the gift to follow the path of a Luther Burbank, Elwyn Meader or Frank Morton.