“It’s disappointing to lose our older seed houses,” said Jere Gettle, Founder of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.
Gettle’s comment echoes the sentiment of many learning about the layoff of 200 people and the eventual closing of the Ferry-Morse seed operations in Kentucky and other locations. Like Gettle, there’s even deeper concern among passionate growers with an understanding of the importance of diversity in our seed sources.
Ferry-Morse was recently purchased by Seed Holdings; a company that appears to have ties with Plantation Products – a firm with a history of buying up small companies. And yes, there are companies – other than Monsanto – that do seedy things that aren’t so great for the industry.
Gettle said the purchase and closing was part of the larger trend of corporations and investment companies buying up older seed companies.
Barbara Melera, owner of D. Landreth Heirloom Seed Company, agreed.
“My guess is its part of an consolidation strategy. Investment companies will buy up several small companies, consolidate them, make them into one huge company which can dominate a certain market, then flip it, “ said Melera.
She says the problem with this is that the investors don’t know anything about horticulture and make stupid mistakes along the way.
“Investors see these companies as investments. They don’t have any real passion for seeds,” says Gettle, “ They don’t see it as a way of life.”
The layoffs have the small town Fulton, KY, home to part of the Ferry-Morse operation, concerned for its economic future. An additional numbers of people were dismissed in Fremont, IN. No one could be reached at Ferry-Morse for confirmation.
“Horticulture is something that you really have to understand. It takes training,” says Melera, “It’s irresponsible, as a business, to lay off that many people who have experience and knowledge. It’s not only irresponsible in a time when jobs are at a premium, it’s unpatriotic.”
It’s also unpatriotic to further reduce the sources of seed. We need a widely diverse seed stock, that’s clean, and we need to preserve heirloom varieties for food security. See my take on history and food diversity.