I recently returned to the United Kingdom, where I found myself discussing the topic of seed analysis with a university student in a jazz club of all places. When I mentioned agriculture and seed testing, his face lit up and he began telling me about his cousin who works in Africa developing drought-tolerant maize varieties.
It was a great opportunity to chat seed with a member of the general public about ag, and the experience reminded me how my profession is becoming increasingly important in a number of different ways. We have some exciting times ahead and this was a refreshing conversation.
Seed analysts are critical to the ag industry. We are experts in many different areas of seed. And as time goes on — and the world faces new challenges like climate change — our profession should be expanding to include more in-depth testing. That means that as seed analysts, we need to continue our educations and look ahead.
Here’s how we can do this.
- Seed analysts must understand more about genetics. Gene editing and other technologies are allowing breeders to do amazing things with plants, and seed analysts will be expected to better understand how these technologies work in order to be able to diagnose seed issues. One example: cold-tolerant varieties of spring wheat potentially may mean that a new germination regime is created to ensure that the seed will grow in the appropriate conditions. Crops like these are a new frontier for seed analysts, and the better we are at working with them, the more important our profession will be.
- We must get over our price obsession. Seed labs still often compete on price. Seed testing is already a low-cost service, and for partly this reason is already viewed by many people as an unnecessary service. Having labs try to out-price one another doesn’t do us any favours. We need to look beyond pricing and promote our services for what they are — a way for our clients to ensure their seed is of good quality so they can be successful.
The above two bullet points go hand-in-hand. Competing on price won’t help the seed testing industry change its image, and if we don’t change our image, we will not be able to keep up with the demands for future issues.
In my next column, I’ll continue with this theme and discuss why seed quality is more than just a number, and how treating it as such can serve to change our entire profession for the better.