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Seeds of resilience: Farmers' unyielding dance with a changing climate

The seed cultivation journey of the Green Haven Seed Co., nestled in the heart of Ann Arbor, Michigan, was once as predictable as the changing seasons. “Our planting and harvesting rhythms were in sync with the rains of spring and early summer, followed by the dry spell in late July and August, and then the return of the rains in September,” recalls Alex Harper, the manager of Green Haven’s seed division. “It was an ideal pattern for crops like lettuce seeds.”

However, the past decade has ushered in a dramatic shift. Harper notes a disturbing pattern of June droughts followed by overwhelming rains in July and August, leading to consecutive years of lettuce seed crop failures.

This year, after enduring hail the size of golf balls, multiple severe thunderstorms, and winds reaching 75mph, their initial seed crop didn’t stand a chance. A second attempt was made, with the crops being meticulously cared for, shielded by shade cloths to endure another potential storm. By late September, Harper celebrated a modest yet victorious harvest.

Seed farmers are no strangers to challenges, from combating powdery mildew on cucumbers to addressing the menace of hornworms on tomato leaves. However, the escalating severity of weather events, attributed to climate change, is amplifying these challenges. Green Haven, too, made the difficult decision to cease seed production, a testament to the escalating adversities.

“We’re witnessing the disappearance of regular seasons,” warns Dr Kelly Jensen, a researcher at Oregon State University and the brain behind the Seed Evolution Network. The record-breaking temperatures and intensified weather events are jeopardizing the diversity of seeds, a concern echoed by industry insiders, though not always publicly acknowledged.

The intricate process of seed farming, especially for open-pollinated, non-hybrid seeds, demands precise conditions. Cross-pollination must be meticulously avoided to maintain the purity of the seeds. Regions like the Pacific Northwest, once celebrated for their conducive climates, are now battlegrounds against unpredictable weather patterns.

The narrative of Jim Fielding, an organic farmer in Bridgewater, Maine, mirrors the global sentiment. After years of battling drought, excessive rainfall is the new adversary. The meticulous process of harvesting and drying seeds is now a race against unpredictable weather patterns.

The future, though uncertain, is not devoid of hope. Adaptation and innovation are the new watchwords. For farmers like Harper, the exploration of both open-pollinated and hybrid seeds is a journey of necessity, not choice. The resilience of seeds against a spectrum of climatic stressors is the new gold standard, a sentiment echoed by Jensen.

As the world grapples with the unpredictable tantrums of climate change, supporting local and regional seed companies is more than a choice—it’s a necessity. Their relentless efforts to innovate and adapt are the unsung sonnets of resilience, echoing the indomitable spirit of humanity amidst the capricious whims of nature.


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