GMO seed crops taking root

SUBHEAD: Hawaii is increasingly dependent on GMO research and seed production for survival. Image above: Ratekin's Seed House corn ad using Uncle Sam as the shill who is wearing the company logo. From By Nanea Kalani on 31 July 2009 in Pacific Business Journal - (

As Hawaii’s agricultural industry continues to decline, a sub-industry is growing in size and work force.

The state’s seed crop industry hit $146 million in value for the 2007-2008 season, surpassing pineapple and sugar, crops that were once Hawaii’s agricultural staples.

The seed crop industry’s value has grown at an average annual rate of 33 percent over the past five years. It makes up about 30 percent of the total value of all crops produced in Hawaii, according to the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association.

The trade group commissioned a study earlier this month to gauge the economic impact of Hawaii’s seed crop industry. The Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation performed the study using data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The seed crop industry’s main players are five companies that grow crops on a total of 10 farms making up 6,010 acres. The companies mostly grow seed corn, as well as soybean, sunflower, wheat and rice varieties.

Forty other companies make up the rest of the industry and are spread over the agricultural, neutraceutical, environmental bioremediation, human therapeutics and marine sciences subsectors. The industry as a whole shipped a total of 16,140 pounds of seed last year to Mainland and South American markets for further development and distribution.

The approximate value of seed corn was $140.5 million and other seed crops accounted for $5.7 million, up from $103 million in the previous season.

The value of seed crops isn’t measured just by sales because the product is not sold like traditional crops. The seed industry’s $146 million value includes $68 million in labor, according to the study.

Counting direct and indirect expenditures, the study said the industry’s economic impact is at least $342 million, including $53 million in salaries outside the seed industry and $167 million in economic activity from sources such as equipment suppliers, utilities and contract research. These activities are estimated to generate $13.8 million in annual tax revenues for the state.

Despite the economic activity, some communities oppose the industry because of its use of genetic engineering to modify plants and their seeds. The study said about half of the acreage under seed crop cultivation employs genetic engineering and half uses conventional breeding practices.

As more sugar and pineapple lands become available, seed companies that find Hawaii an ideal climate for year-round crops are buying or leasing hundreds of acres.

For example, in 2007, Monsanto Co. acquired 2,300 acres of agricultural land in Kunia from the James Campbell Co. after Del Monte Fresh Produce Hawaii pulled out of its pineapple operations.

Monsanto, which produces seed corn, has about 4,800 acres in the Islands in leased and owned land, said spokesman Paul Koehler.

Meanwhile, last fall, Syngenta Seeds Inc. bought 848 acres from Campbell for approximately $14 million, also in Kunia, said branch manager Michael Austin.

The company, which has corn and soybean seed operations, previously had leased nearby land from Monsanto.

Earlier this year, Dow AgroSciences signed a multiyear lease for 3,400 acres from Gay & Robinson in West Kauai for corn seed, soybean and sunflower crops.

German company BASF Plant Science uses its Kauai facility as a continuous pass-through nursery, said seed activities manager Lee Stromberg. He said corn harvested in the Midwest is shipped to Kauai for planting in November. Once harvested, the seeds are returned to the Midwest for spring planting.

“This speeds up development time by allowing BASF Plant Science to grow two or more generations of a crop in one year,” Stromberg said.

The company’s corn research focuses on improving the nutritional qualities of maize as feed for poultry, swine and dairy cattle. Its modified techniques have created plants with improved agronomic characteristics, a higher content of vitamins or omega-3 fatty acids for preventing cardiovascular diseases, as well as plants with a higher nutritional value for animals, Stromberg said.

He said BASF is investing $430 million to expand its plant biotechnology operations at eight sites in five countries in Europe and the U.S.

The research and farm expansions have led to job growth for the local seed industry. Hawaii seed companies collectively employ 1,863 workers, and the number of full-time jobs in the sector has increased 268.5 percent over the past three years, according to the study.

Overall job growth has increased by 73 percent since 2006, and about 14 percent of seed industry jobs are classified as “highly skilled” in the areas of science and research.

Meanwhile, the overall agricultural sector saw a 16.7 percent decline in jobs during the same time period. The seed industry accounts for 23 percent of agricultural jobs in the state.

“Over the last five years the seed industry has continued to grow at an exponential rate and is a significant driver of the life sciences biotechnology industry in Hawaii,” the study said. “It remains the primary driver of overall growth in Hawaii’s agricultural sector.”

Hawaii seed crop companies:
• Monsanto Co. (Farms on Oahu, Molokai and Maui) • Syngenta Seeds Inc. (Farms on Oahu and Kauai) • Pioneer Hi-Bred International (Farm on Kauai) • Dow AgroSciences (Farms on Kauai and Molokai) • BASF Plant Science (Farm on Kauai) see also: Ea O Ka Aina: Kauai's last sugar harvest 9/28/09 .

1 comment :

jonathan jay said...

that uncle sure has a big corn cob

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