10 July 2017

The sad decline of "open-pollinated" crops

I spotted the above sign recently at the University of Wisconsin Allen Centennial Gardens, a free educational facility that teaches students and the public about gardening and landscaping.

I'm don't know the context/import of the "kissing" reference (answer in the Comments), but the "open pollinated" comment caught my eye:
"The last open pollinated corn was released in 1902 - 115 years ago!
Here's a concise explanation from Green Haven:
“Open Pollinated” is a horticultural term meaning that the plant will produce seeds naturally. When these seeds are planted they will reliably reproduce the same plant as the parent. On the other hand, hybrid corn is the result of controlled pollination of inbred plants. These seeds are often sterile, and if they do germinate, will not reliably produce the same plant as the parent. This means the farmer has a perpetual reliance on the seed companies.

This dependence on a few seed/chemical giants is becoming more and more uncomfortable for American consumers and farmers. Green Haven Open Pollinated Seed Group is changing that. We are a nationwide organization of seed producers based in western NY that are pooling out efforts to offer the most beneficial varieties of quality open pollinated Seed. By selection, Green Haven focuses on improving open pollinated corn for silage, grain, and wildlife plots.


  1. Thank you so much for posting this! This is a movement I intend to fully support!

  2. some links for more info about the four corns on the slate:


    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peruvian_corn choclo




    1. I never would have guessed that Who Gets Kissed was the name of a strain of sweet corn. Tx, anon.

  3. Same fight here in France where a few try to protect old self reproducting varieties of corn. I try to use only those in my patch for tomatoes, corn, beans and peperronis. Every year I plant the seeds produced from the previous year and it seems to work like a charm!

  4. Of course this practice produced childhood work for those of us who grew up in the Midwest and learned to detassel corn in the summer months.

    1. I was at the other end - in the canning factory at LeSueur, greasing the cooker machines and watching for dented cans on the conveyor belt. When it didn't rain. (On rainy days when the trucks couldn't get into the fields you stayed home and didn't get paid).

  5. Selecting and developing traits is hard enough with any technique, but then to also ensure the traits are intergenerationally stable and will survive cross-polination in the wild has to be much more difficult. Hybrids have no such expectation, so hybridization is likely just a much easier and less expensive technique to use. Recent developments in GMO techniques might change the situation.

    It seems the decline in open pollinators is due to hybridization enabling development of more extreme (fragile?) traits easily. This provides opportunities for higher profit for both farmers and seed companies, which to me explains their market dominance over open-pollinators better than the lock-in effect does.

    FWIW, farmers rely on seed companies for open pollinators too. Seed companies can control for unwanted crossing in open pollinators. They offer seed coatings that can improve yields. Buying from a seed company avoids the costs associated with storing seeds over the winter.

    Monopolies are a problem, but I think the desire for agricultural independence from industry is a romantic notion, not a practical one.


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