Letter to Congress: Seeds and Breeds in the Farm Bill

May 17, 2013

On behalf of more the undersigned agricultural businesses, organizations, and scientists, we respectfully ask for your support of Senator Tester’s amendment to the Senate Farm Bill. This amendment aims to enhance farmer access to improved crop cultivars and livestock breeds adapted to diverse and regional farming needs. Directing more public dollars toward classical breeding projects that result in finished seeds and breeds increases the competitiveness of agriculture across the U.S. Classical breeding projects also improve food security for our growing population.

Classical breeding is a proven approach to meeting our food and fiber needs

Classical plant and livestock breeding is a proven science. It is our most successful and benign approach to crop improvement, accounting for about half of our dramatic food and fiber crop yield increases throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Classical breeding, using field-based selection, complements newer forms of breeding and fills important roles that lab-based approaches, such as genomics, are not well suited to. Lab-based breeding has value, and may become more important as these technologies improve, but cannot be relied upon currently or in the foreseeable future to fulfill many breeding needs. Classical breeding, in particular, is highly cost-effective.

Senator Tester’s amendment reinforces and builds on a 2008 Farm Bill mandate

The need to better support classical breeding becomes more pressing each year. The 2008 Farm Bill included a congressional mandate that classical plant breeding be a priority within the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). There have been other requests by congressional agriculture and appropriations committees for USDA to make classical plant and animal breeding a priority.

To date, USDA has not fulfilled the 2008 congressional mandate. USDA is aware of the problem, and Senator Tester’s amendment would support the agency’s efforts by clarifying the urgent need to prioritize classical breeding as an essential approach to improving traits of broad interest, and addressing the demand for new cultivars that meet the diverse needs of farmers, especially cultivars adapted to regional conditions – a critical requirement for developing highly productive crop cultivars and diverse cropping systems that are resilient.

Senator Tester’s amendment corrects problems in AFRI breeding grants that have become apparent since the last Farm Bill by prioritizing public cultivar and breed development through classical breeding. It also removes hurdles that hinder USDA’s progress toward this goal. Genomics methods would continue to receive substantial funding.

U.S. farmers face diminished seed choices to meet specific farming needs

Farmers constantly face changing insect, weed, and disease pressures that vary by region and that rapidly change. Crops must continuously be adapted to meet these changes. Similarly, climate, growing season length, soils, and water availability all greatly affect crop growth and vary across the U.S. The most productive approach is to have seeds that are adapted to the same environment as their intended use.

The large investments currently made in molecular breeding programs do not adequately support the development of complex traits necessary for adapting seed to regional needs. It is not cost-effective to use these approaches to develop crop cultivars or livestock breeds adapted to the diverse needs of farmers. The lack of seed options is especially apparent for farmers seeking a range of cultivars in major crops. Options are even less for farmers seeking cultivars that are held in the public domain.

Meeting food security needs

Beyond farmer choice, the lack of seed availability and the narrowing of genetic resources are making our food system less secure. Classical breeding can provide the genetic tools farmers need to manage evolving pest, disease, and weather challenges, creating a source of seeds and breeds adapted to changing needs and opportunities. Of course, one of these needs includes feeding our growing population. The maintenance and improvement of genetic diversity through classical breeding is essential for the success of productive food systems and the greater global food supply, both now and into the future. This is a national issue and should be addressed, at least in part, through national programs such as AFRI.


Farmer access to regionally adapted seeds and breeds is paramount to fostering the competitiveness of agriculture in all regions of the U.S. As agricultural research has shifted toward an emphasis on lab-based and molecular breeding, seed choice has not kept up with demand, and the diversity of our plant genetic resources has narrowed. Farmers need access to seeds that are bred specifically for their regions and cropping systems. In particular, farmers lament limited cultivar options in major crops, especially publicly held cultivars released by land grant universities that are adapted to regional farming needs to satisfy the national market. By improving agricultural productivity and resilience, classical breeding also improves food security for our growing population.

Senator Tester’s amendment seeks to reinvigorate classical plant breeding in the public sector to better ensure farmers have the seeds and breeds they need to be successful.


Arkansas Rice Growers Association (Arkansas)
California Farmers Union (California)
Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (North and South Carolina)              
Center for a Livable Future Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (Maryland)
Center for Rural Affairs (Nebraska)
Dakota Resource Council (North Dakota)
Dakota Rural Action (South Dakota)
Delta Land & Community (Arkansas)
Draper Family Farm (Iowa)
Family Farm Defenders (Wisconsin)
Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance (Texas)
Food For Maine’s Future (Maine)
Friends of Family Farmers (Oregon)
Grain Millers, Inc. (Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Oregon)
Hawai’i Public Seed Initiative (Hawaii)
Idaho Rural Council (Idaho)
Kansas Farmers Union (Kansas)
Kansas Rural Center (Kansas)
Land Stewardship Project (Minnesota)
Mississippi Association of Cooperatives (Mississippi)
Missouri Farmers Union (Missouri)
Missouri Rural Crisis Center (Missouri)
Montana Farmers Union (Montana)
National Cooperative Grocers Association (National)
National Family Farm Coalition (National)
National Farmers Union (National)
National Hmong American Farmers (National)            
National Organic Coalition (National)
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
Nebraska Farmers Union (Nebraska)
New England Farmers Union  (New England)
Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance
Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (Ohio)
Oregon Rural Action (Oregon)
Organic Farming Research Foundation
Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing, Inc. (National)
Organically Grown Company (Oregon)
Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (National)
Organic Trade Association (National)
Organic Valley (Wisconsin)
Organization for Competitive Markets (Nebraska)
Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (Pennsylvania)
Prairie Quest Farm (Iowa)
Progressive Agriculture Organization (Pennsylvania)
R-CALF (National)
Ranch Foods Direct (Colorado)
Rural Advancement Foundation International – USA (National)
Rural Vermont (Vermont)
Seed Matters (California)
South Agassiz Resource Council (North Dakota)
Steve’s Seed Conditioning (Illinois)
Stonebridge Ltd. (Iowa)
The Land Institute (Kansas)
The National Young Farmers’ Coalition (National)
Union of Concerned Scientists (National)           
United Natural Foods, Inc. (National)
Virginia Association for Biological Farming (Virginia)
Western Colorado Congress (Colorado)
Western Organization of Resource Councils
Women, Food and Agriculture Network (Iowa)                                         

Agricultural Scientists and Professionals

Catherine Badgley, Ph.D.
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of Michigan           
Zach Bouricius, Consultant
Plant, Soil and Insect Science from University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Liz Carlisle, Ph.D. Candidate
National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow
Center for Diversified Farming Systems
University of California – Berkeley
John E. Carroll, Ph.D.
College of Life Sciences and Agriculture                                                      
University of New Hampshire
Eric Casler, Ph.D. Candidate 
Conservation Biology Program
University of Minnesota
Martha L. Crouch, Ph.D.
Consultant on Agriculture and Technology    
Julie Dawson, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Research Associate
Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics      
Cornell University, New York
George M. Diggs, Jr., Ph.D.
Professor of Biology   
Austin College, Texas             
J. Franklin Egan, Ph.D.
Department of Crop and Soil Sciences     
Pennsylvania State University                    
David Ehrenfeld, M.D., Ph.D.
Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources
School of Environmental and Biological Sciences
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey                                      
Les Everett, Ph.D.
Agronomist Water Resources Center        
University of Minnesota                 
Jan Garrett, Ph.D.
Organic Vegetable Production Research        
Auburn University, Alabama              
Michael Glos
Department of Plant Breeding
Cornell University, New York
Walter Goldstein, Ph.D.      
Executive Director
Mandaamin Institute (Wisconsin)
Major Goodman, Ph.D.
William Neal Reynolds Professor and Distinguished University Professor of Crop Science, Genetics, and Statistics
Member of the National Academy of Sciences   
North Carolina State University
Julie Grossman, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Soil Fertility Management in Organic Cropping Systems       
North Carolina State University
John Patrick Hart, Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics (Vegetable Breeding)
Cornell University (New York)                  
Lori Hoagland, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Specialty Crop Production Systems
Purdue University (Indiana)
Philip H. Howard, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Community Sustainability
Michigan State University
Alastair Iles, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Science, Technology & Environment
Department of Environmental Science, Policy & Management
University of California – Berkeley    
Krista Isaacs, Ph.D. Candidate in Agroecology
Michigan State University
Allison L H Jack, Ph.D.
Professor of Agroecology
Prescott College (Arizona)
Sibella Kraus
Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE)
David Brower Center (California)
Matt Liebman, Ph.D.
Henry A. Wallace Endowed Chair for Sustainable Agriculture
Professor of Agronomy           
Iowa State University 
Claire Luby, Graduate Student
Department of Horticulture           
University of Wisconsin – Madison           
Alexandra Lyon, Graduate Student
Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies   
University of Wisconsin – Madison    
Jennifer MacAdam, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Plant Physiology and Forage Production
Department of Plants, Soils, and Climate
Utah State University                      
Michael Mazourek, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Calvin Noyes Keeney Professor of Plant Breeding
Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics      
Cornell University (New York)                  
Kathleen McAfee, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, International Relations  
San Francisco State University, California
V. Ernesto Méndez, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Agroecology & Environmental Studies
Agroecology and Rural Livelihoods Group    
Environmental Program and Plant & Soil Science Department
University of Vermont                        
Maywa Montenegro, Ph.D.
Student Environmental Science, Policy, and Management      
University of California – Berkeley
Kevin Murphy, Ph.D.
Assistant Research Professor/Clinical Assistant Professor
Department of Crop and Soil Sciences
Washington State University
James Myers, Ph.D.
Professor of Vegetable Breeding and Genetics
Oregon State University
John Navazio, Ph.D.
Organic Seed Research & Extension Specialist
Washington State University/Organic Seed Alliance
Dan Nuckols, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Economics
Austin College, Texas
Founding Board Member, Council for Healthy Food Systems
Ivette Perfecto, Ph.D.
George W. Pack Professor of Natural Resources and Environment   
University of Michigan                       
Chris Picone, Ph.D.
Department of Biology       
Fitchburg State University (Massachusetts)                               
Gerald Presley
Research Assistant
Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering
University of Minnesota
Dianne Rocheleau, Ph.D.
Professor of Geography Director
Global Environmental Studies Clark University (Massachusetts)
Michelle Schroeder-Moreno, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor and Agroecology Education        
North Carolina State University         
Adrienne Shelton, Graduate Student
Department of Agronomy  
University of Wisconsin – Madison
Annie Shattuck
Department of Geography
University of California – Berkeley
Gerald R. Smith, Ph.D.
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology    
University of Michigan
Richard G. Smith, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Agroecology
Department of Natural Resources and the Environment          
University of New Hampshire
Allison A. Snow, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology
Ohio State University             
Doreen Stabinsky, Ph.D.
College of the Atlantic Bar Harbor (Maine)        
Seth Swanson
Montana State University Extension
Missoula County Extension Horticulturist
William F. Tracy, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair
Friday Chair of Vegetable Research
Department of Agronomy
University of Wisconsin – Madison           
Joel Wainwright, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Geography
Ohio State University