Presentation Title

COVID-19 & Seed System Resilience: The Effects of the Pandemic on Seed Sourcing and Access in Vermont

Abstract

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have rippled across the United States’ (US) food system, resulting simultaneously in skyrocketing demand in some sectors and shrinking markets in others. The US seed sector was particularly marked by the former in the spring and summer of 2020; panic-buying, rising gardening demand, and heightened safety precautions in seed fulfillment facilities precipitated a commercial seed sector overwhelmed and unprepared to meet consumer demand for seed, especially for non-commercial growers. In response, prominent scholars and seed system actors have emphasized the need to refocus on farmer- and gardener-managed seed systems which often maintain higher degrees of crop diversity than the privatized, highly consolidated, and corporate-led global seed system in which four companies control 67% of global market share. However, limited attention to non-commercial seed systems in the US, coupled with an information lag on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on growers, first warrants investigation into the strengths and vulnerabilities of existing seed systems. This paper examines how commercial and non-commercial growers adapted to seed shortages amidst the pandemic. Using data from two online surveys, initial findings suggest the COVID-19 pandemic led growers to adapt their seed sourcing as well as the types of crop varieties they typically grow. Depending on the seed sources used and crop varieties grown, some growers also faced more difficulties than others in obtaining preferred seed. These findings highlight the varying capacity of different seed systems to contribute to resilience and/or vulnerability among growers. More broadly, the insights from this study illuminate how directing resources and attention to the often-overlooked non-commercial seed system can help US growers meet and respond to manifold challenges

Primary Faculty Mentor Name

Daniel Tobin

Status

Graduate

Student College

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Program/Major

Community Development and Applied Economics

Primary Research Category

Food & Environment Studies

Second College (optional)

Graduate College

Tertiary Research Category

Social Sciences

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COVID-19 & Seed System Resilience: The Effects of the Pandemic on Seed Sourcing and Access in Vermont

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have rippled across the United States’ (US) food system, resulting simultaneously in skyrocketing demand in some sectors and shrinking markets in others. The US seed sector was particularly marked by the former in the spring and summer of 2020; panic-buying, rising gardening demand, and heightened safety precautions in seed fulfillment facilities precipitated a commercial seed sector overwhelmed and unprepared to meet consumer demand for seed, especially for non-commercial growers. In response, prominent scholars and seed system actors have emphasized the need to refocus on farmer- and gardener-managed seed systems which often maintain higher degrees of crop diversity than the privatized, highly consolidated, and corporate-led global seed system in which four companies control 67% of global market share. However, limited attention to non-commercial seed systems in the US, coupled with an information lag on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on growers, first warrants investigation into the strengths and vulnerabilities of existing seed systems. This paper examines how commercial and non-commercial growers adapted to seed shortages amidst the pandemic. Using data from two online surveys, initial findings suggest the COVID-19 pandemic led growers to adapt their seed sourcing as well as the types of crop varieties they typically grow. Depending on the seed sources used and crop varieties grown, some growers also faced more difficulties than others in obtaining preferred seed. These findings highlight the varying capacity of different seed systems to contribute to resilience and/or vulnerability among growers. More broadly, the insights from this study illuminate how directing resources and attention to the often-overlooked non-commercial seed system can help US growers meet and respond to manifold challenges