The Garden Seed Monopoly

I have written here before about the ever-increasing control of a handfull of enormous global corporations over the world's food supply. An article in the recent issue of Countryside magazine sheds an ominous and foreboding light on this topic. The article is titled, "The Gardening Game" and is subtitled "Do you know where your seeds come from? You may be surprised."

I am going to take the liberty to quote from the Countryside article. I encourage you to get the magazine and read the whole thing yourself. Countryside is an excellent resource for Christian agrarians (and aspiring Christian Agrarians). Here are the quotes:

"Virtually every large mail-order garden company in the United States uses a seed broker to supply them with stock."

"The American nursery trade is a 39.6 billion dollar a year industry. With the purchase of Seminis in January of 2005, Monsanto is now estimated to control between 85 and 90 percent of the U.S. nursery market. This includes the pesticide, herbicide and fertilizer markets. By merging with or buying up the competition, dominating genetic technology, and lobbying the government to make saving seeds illegale, this monolith has positioned itself as the largest player in the gardening game."

"Monsanto holds over eleven thousand U.S. seed patents. When Americans buy garden seed and supplies, most of the time they are buying from Monsanto, regardless of who the retailer is."

"Six companies, DuPont, Mitsui, Monsanto, Syngent, Aventis, and Dow control 98 percent of the world's seeds."

"Before it was acquired by Monsanto, Seminis eliminated 2,000 varieties of seeds from its inventory."

[Note: the seeds being eliminated are the older, open-polinated, heirloom varieties. They are being eliminated because they are not patented or genetically modified, which means they are not profitable.]

"... in 1981 there were approximately 5,000 vegetable seed varieties available in U.S. catalogs. Today there are less than 500."

"Seed biodiversity will be compromised globally [as the old varieties are not propogated and, therefore, lost] while the corporate stranglehold tightens . . ."

My friends, this is scary stuff. Tom (Northern Farmer) and others have Blogged about this same subject in the past. It is extremely important that "We The People" work to preserve these seed varieties in our families and our communities.

As Tom has done in the past, the Countryside article recommend that people go to the Seed Savers Exchange website. I'm headed there right now...


Emily said...

I've been inundated with various seed catalogs and they are full of hybrid this and hybrid that. Then I received a copy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and I have been drooling over the offerings! Do you recommend them? I haven't been to the Seed Savers website yet but I'm on my way there now. We need to get our orders in so we can get some things started indoors. May I ask what you are planting this year? I'm afraid that in my excitement to garden I might get in over my head, being a beginner, but it's hard to restrain myself!

Tom Scepaniak said...

Thanks for posting about this important subject Herrick, it's one of my top priorities. Yesterday we received a box of op seeds from Seed Savers. We're testing many varieties to see what would survive the best in the northern climate here. In fact this is to become one of the parts of our farming operation, "rare seed preservation". It's something that has been on my heart for sometime now. What good does all the preaching in the world do if we don't take the bull by the horns and do something to help? I can see a few years down the road when this place will be an important part of the fight to stop the destruction of these important seeds. Greenhouse plans are being studied, plans are being made. Daughter Rachel is studying this and is starting to see this is her calling also.

Again, thanks so much for beating the drum here Herrick. Someday laws can get changed back to a more Godly way, but we can't bring back the seeds God gave us. They'll be lost because of industrial ag's quest for total domination. I hope everyone will pitch in and be "farmer patriots" and help preserve our heritage.

Hexdek16 said...

Thanks for the STATS and information. In fact as I write this, on my desk sits a packet of Ananas Noir Tomato Seeds. A one pound variety from Belgium that has delicious green & red flesh. I like the motto on Baker Creek’s seed packets “We fight Gene-Altered Food!

Whether by providence or happenstance, Brooke & I, came across Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. before the blogs last year.

Being the frugal economic husband that I am, I picked up a book at the local depository (see library) and studied up on how to save and preserve my stock for next years planting. No sense in spending the money twice or annually if not necessary.

Such economy allows the farmer or backyard gardener the opportunity to then invest in other types & varieties the following year.

I’ll have to stop by seed savers and see what’s out there………..Regards.

James said...

I've recently heard good things about the Baker Creek people and it seems like they have the same mission as Seedsavers. I've already ordered most of what I need from Seedsavers, but I may look at ordering some from Baker to spread the support. Their website is

Zach said...

And how could the government possibly regulate or ban the saving of seeds?

That's why companies are so hot for patented genes and GMO varieties.

You see, if you have a patent, you have a right (enforced by the government) to control of your invention.

Therefore, for patented varieties, the government can and does regulate and ban the saving of seeds -- because this is "theft" of the "intellectual property" of the patent holder.

(Proving, to me, that it was a horrible mistake when the USPTO changed the rules to allow the patenting of living creatures...)

And yes, there are examples (mainly from Canada, IIRC) of Monsanto agents tresspassing onto fields and taking crop samples to a lab to identify "stolen property" and then coming after the farmer with the power of the government.

I think Monsanto has backed off somewhat from this stance because of bad publicity generated at the time, but the precedent has been set.


James said...

I don't understand this statement-

"in 1981 there were approximately 5,000 vegetable seed varieties available in U.S. catalogs. Today there are less than 500."

What? Less than 500? That can't be right. Tomato Growers Supply Conmpany in Flordia probably offers that many tomato varieties alone...I'm not getting something

Herrick Kimball said...

I think Zach has explained how the govt can outlaw the saving of some seeds.

If I recall correctly, there was a farmer in Canada who saved his corn seed every year and the farmer next door used some sort of Monsanto, patented "franken-seed" for his corn. The pollen from the patented seed drifted into the heirloom corn field and combined with heirloom. Monsanto then said the heirloom farmer could not use his own seed to plant again. It ended up in court. Someone else can correct me if I have this wrong on this account.

As for 5,000 varieties of seed, I can not defend the articles assertion about this. However, the article does point out that as older, unpatented seed varieties are discontinued, they are being replaced by patented. It's also interesting to note the following (as quoted form the Countryside article):

"No matter which catalog you order from, the chances are pretty good that you are getting the exact same seed as everyone else."

And. . .

"As if the waters weren't muddy enough, each mail order seed company can resell the same seed [that they buy from the major seed brokers] using different names for it."

Names give by some seed companies are trademarked but the seeds, evidentally, are not.

On another note, the article states that many seed companies are owned by the same umbrella company. For example, J.W. Jung seed company owns Totally Tomatoes, R.H. Shumway, Vermont Bean & Seed, Seeds For The World, and others.

BTW... It's the March/April 2006 issue of Countryside.

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi Emily,

I've never bought seeds from Baker Creek. In recent years I've bought from Johnny's and Shumway and Pinetree and Seeds of Change.

Re: your question about what we're planting this year... I think I'll post about that shortly.

RL said...

I haven't been able to verify this yet, but someone told me recently, that in Iraq the U.S. is not allowing the Iraqi farmers to plant their own seeds that they have been planting for centuries. Don't know if there's any truth in that but, it wouldn't surprise me. Has anyone heard anything like that?


Herrick Kimball said...

Hi Russ,

I read that on Pastor Mc Connell's recent pdf download about "Generational Sowing and Reaping." I believe I have heard or read something about it before that.

If Pastor McConnell stops back here, perhaps he can provide additional details. Or an internet search might turn up more info.

Anonymous said...

Some of you may be concerned that you are buying seeds from Monsanto (via the Seminis Seed aquisition) without knowing it. If you are purchasing from anyone but Fedco Seeds there is some chance of it (well maybe not from the likes of Baker Creek and Seed Savers, both of whom I trust). Many popular favorites from now-Monsanto will be found in the 'regualr' catalogues. I ran into this hard-to-find list recently:

Anonymous said...

Jere here from Baker Creek Seeds,
Thanks for the kind comments, your right we don't deal with Seminis, never have!

Safe sources include: Seed Savers, Sand Hill Preservation Center, Fedco, and a few others.

I guess we are in group of the most independent seed companies out there.

Have a great season,
God Bless!

Jennifer said...

Hi Herrick!
This is my first visit to your blog, my second year gardening and my first year starting from seeds. I am thrilled at the prospect of watching life emerge from the DIRT! I will be stopping by your bolg often and intend to forward it to my father who enjoys gardening as well. Thank you and bless you for your time and energy here!

Also, RL,
I believe I read the story you are talking about in a Baker Creek Catalog. Or at least, it was a very similar one where a man (from Iraq - I think) sent his seeds in to the folks at Baker Creek in hopes that his seeds would continue to thrive in other people's gardens as he was not allowed to use them in his. Somebody correct me if I am wrong... CRAZY!

Anonymous said...

i'm on the bandwagon! let's get hoeing!

Anonymous said...

I believe I read the story you are talking about in a Baker Creek Catalog.