Abstracts for Penn State Biodiversity Conference
Seed Companies in the Northeast

CR Lawn, November 1997

  1. A brief overview of Fedco Seeds: who we are, where we are, what we sell, how we operate.
  2. A discussion of what makes Fedco unique among seed companies:
    1. Our cooperative background. Unlike most businesses, Fedco had a guaranteed market through the food cooperative network before we had developed much expertise in our product. How being a cooperative shapes our goals, attitudes, customer base and operations.
    2. Our strong commitment to keeping our prices down. Why we do it and how we do it.
    3. Our evolution from a repacker to a researcher. How and why our focus has broadened. What we intend to do in the years ahead to encourage diversity and why.
  3. Fedco’s place in a changing industry.
    1. The coming biotechnology revolution. How has it changed the seed trade and what further changes might we expect in the years ahead.
    2. A study of synthesis and antithesis. The synthesis of consolidation: The wholesale seed industry will be controlled by a few multinational giants. The antithesis of dispersion: a plethora of new seed retailers responds to the crisis. New synthesis? Parallel seed industries with big guys and little guys co-existing? Opportunities on both sides of the street or must Fedco choose one side or the other? Or will the big guys swallow up the little guys?
  4. If you don’t like the news make some of your own. How we can work together to help each other out and maximize crop diversity at the same time.

Plenary Session: Preserving Crop Biodiversity:
Whose Responsibility Is It?

  1. Overview: what seed companies can and cannot do. Looking at the realities.
    1. Seed companies will always be with us. Most people cannot and/or will not save seeds.
    2. The different purposes of seed savers’ organizations and seed companies. Where they overlap and where they don’t.
    3. Varieties: owned by seed companies or in the public domain?
  2. Addressing ethical questions: What seed companies can do
    1. Using the catalog to do more than sell seeds. The catalog as bully pulpit.
      1. Alerting the public to the bioengineering revolution, the resulting consolidation of the food industry, and its possible consequences.
      2. Educating people about the benefits of local agriculture. Educating about the benefits of small regional seed companies and regionally adapted open-pollinated seed varieties.
      3. Beyond the pretty face: Educating people to open their minds and mouths, to broaden their palates and embrace the unfamiliar even when it is not cosmetically perfect.
    2. Researching as well as repacking
      1. Using available resources to research what’s out there. Joining and cooperating with seed savers’ organizations.
      2. Developing a regional trials network.
      3. Maintaining a varietal database.
      4. Developing a seed growers network.
      5. Developing a breeders network.
    3. Making diversity accessible: keeping costs reasonable
      1. The emerging two food systems model and the dangers in it.
      2. The importance of keeping prices affordable.
      3. The way to keep prices affordable: good business practices.
        1. The business must grow sustainably.
        2. The business must develop internal efficiencies.
        3. The business must foster good relations with trialers and growers by being clear about each party’s responsibilities, honoring contracts, recognizing and rewarding cooperators, paying growers fairly and on time.
    4. Surviving the brave new world
      1. Eliminating predatory practices.
      2. Cooperating with seed savers—how both sides can benefit.
      3. Cooperating with other seed companies—ways to create win-win situations.
      4. Building social/political alliances.
    5. Influencing the public domain, some modest goals for political work
      1. Ensuring the right to diversity by insisting that the right to sell any varieties be not restricted any further.
      2. Renewing public support for classical plant breeding at our land grant universities.
      3. Exposing and questioning incestuous alliances between government and big agribusiness which are promoting products that are not in the public interest.
      4. Working to regulate biotechnology, or at the very least, to require labeling of transgenic products so that the consuming public may choose knowingly.