The local seed industry will remain strong despite challenges such as population growth, a labor shortage and international competition, panelists said at the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Seed Association winter convention Dec. 3.
The area is one of the world’s major seed producers thanks to its dry climate and cool nights — which aid growth while limiting pest and disease pressure — and substantial irrigation infrastructure that provides growers an additional precision-management tool. IEOSA said the region produces more than 50 seed species and many more varieties.
Private-sector and university scientists have kept local seed companies innovative, customer-focused and able to capitalize on local advantages, panelists said. They addressed how the local industry has evolved.
“It’s going to be there,” Jess Bice, retired from Forage Genetics, said of the industry. “It’s going to be a challenge, but that future is there. The stewardship is going to be all-important.”
Growth, and encroachment by other uses, reduce farmland supply and the availability of larger parcels desired for some types of seed production, he said.
Tim Primus, recently retired from Syngenta, said he hopes current local initiatives to curb urbanization continue, and “smart” growth is prioritized.
“Taking acres away is a big concern,” he said.
Meanwhile, the ongoing labor shortage in agriculture is a huge burden on the seed industry, Primus said.
“We’re going to see continued mechanization,” he said. “Mechanization needs to continue to advance.”
Technology and tech-derived information are available to seed companies of all sizes, Primus said. A diverse workforce broadens the knowledge base and bodes well for continued innovation.
Truman Kohtz, who is retired from HM Clause, said scientists continue to advance the industry while focusing on what the market demands. He urged companies to protect inputs when producing internationally, such as by stationing someone at the site full-time.
Bice said many more seed crops are grown in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon compared to 40-plus years ago.
“The diversification has been dramatic over the years,” he said. “And there is likely more to come.”
Organic growers, for example, will demand more seed, Bice said.