INSIDERSSeed Health & TestingUsing Science to Meet the Demands of a Hungry World

Using Science to Meet the Demands of a Hungry World


It would be an understatement to say that agricultural practices and output have changed significantly in the past century. In 1910, one farmer could feed 2.5 people. Today, one farmer can feed more than 130 people.

These production increases are a direct result of the convergence of innovative techniques and new technology, as well as the ingenuity of farmers. Since 1960, farmers have doubled their output of food calories, but these advancements aren’t just happening at the farm level; innovation is encouraged and adopted throughout the whole value chain from the seed industry (the very beginning) to food packaging for consumers (the endpoint).

Plant breeders have increased grain yields by selecting for traits that help the plant survive stressful conditions or better fend off pests. Meanwhile, the food industry has created new ways of packaging that helps preserve food, giving it a longer shelf life and resulting in less waste.

As a seed laboratory, we, too, are continually looking for new and innovative methods to increase efficiency, accuracy and throughput. We test seed to make sure that no unwanted pests or pathogens make it into farmers’ fields at the expense of yield. We also conduct germination tests to make sure farmers know exactly what they are planting. For instance, if I buy seed with a lower germination rate, I know I need to increase my plant population. In comparison, if I buy seed with a high germ rate, I can reduce my plant population and trust that every seed will produce a plant.

Throughout the value chain, research is highly regarded and intensive. For example, the crop protection segment invests 12 per cent of its revenue into research and development efforts — that’s more than $3.75 billion annually invested into research and development.

As an industry, we are keenly aware that as the world’s population grows, the demand for high quality, nutritious food will double by 2050. This places added pressure on all within agriculture to do their part in continuing to adopt innovative practices that can help to:

  1. Increase production,
  2. Boost the nutritional profile,
  3. Preserve the food/crops we have,
  4. And all while using fewer resources.

Water to feed the world could exceed what is available by 17 per cent. Grain producing land will shrink by one-third by 2050. Placing emphasis on sustainability is not a request but a demand. Billion of lives depend on it — depend on food that is abundant, depend on food that is affordable, and depend on food that is safe. What are you doing to help?

Sarah Foster
President and Senior Seed Analyst, 20/20 Seed Labs - Sarah Foster is a registered seed technologist, senior seed analyst and president of 20/20 Seed Labs — a company she started in 1989 that provides testing services for all crop kinds, including extensive quality and seed health analysis, molecular testing and accredited crop inspection. Involved in the seed industry since the late 1970s, Foster studied and qualified as an accredited seed analyst at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge, England. Her work experience includes seven years with Sharps Seed International (Advanta) in the United Kingdom, and five years with the United Grain Growers in Edmonton after immigrating to Canada in 1984.