Going To Seed For Profit

By Adolph Helm
Wednesday - October 21, 2009
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By Adolph Helm
President of Hawaii Crop Improvement Association

Hawaii’s seed industry is striving to become the gateway for worldwide agriculture. Considering that almost every line of commercially distributed seed corn spends some time being developed in this state, we undoubtedly play a major role in agricultural systems worldwide. Seed companies have operated here in Hawaii for more than 40 years, and our industry has thrived since we planted roots here. Hawaii’s seed industry produces corn, soy beans, rice, and sunflowers. Investments in technology, our skilled work force and Hawaii’s unique environment have driven our industry forward and fostered its growth.

Seed enhancement, a core piece of our business, is not a new concept and has been used by farmers for centuries to produce crops with favorable qualities, like the ability to better withstand a drought. Farmers - in Hawaii and beyond - benefit from our heavy investments in research, which take seed enhancement a step further. This research advances the field of agricultural biotechnology, allowing us to produce seeds that grow higher yields with less of an impact on Hawaii’s natural resources. The seeds we nurture here also increase the efficiency of farms, requiring farmers to utilize fewer inputs, such as water or fertilizers, to grow healthy crops.

By embracing sustainable agriculture and leveraging science, our operations are expanding rapidly and allowing us to provide a considerable boost to the state’s economy. This is even more significant because our growth has continued during a time when other sectors of agriculture, such as sugar and pineapple, are struggling.

Since the 1960s, the value of the seed industry in Hawaii has grown consistently from year to year. The National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates the current value of the industry at a record high $176 million for the 2008-2009 growing season. This represents a 26 percent increase from our value in the previous year.

Paul Gamit of Mycogen Seeds on Molokai and Adolph Helm examine bags of corn seed bound for South America

Such strong value growth allows our companies to contribute to Hawaii’s economy in major ways. For instance, seed companies generate $13.8 million in tax revenues for the state annually. We also employ more than 1,800 residents in rural communities - nearly 15 percent of these jobs are classified as high-tech, science-related positions. With expanding operations on Kauai, Molokai, Maui and Oahu, our companies also indirectly support nearly 800 other jobs in the state through our affiliations with suppliers, utilities and other partners.

Hawaii is an ideal location for the seed industry to flourish. The combination of several growing cycles within a year - as opposed to one on the Mainland - and the state’s skilled agricultural work force are spurring advances here that impact the world. We like to say that we are growing locally to feed globally, a commitment that our companies and Hawaii’s farmers take to heart.

We will remain committed to furthering science, providing fulfilling jobs for state residents and reducing our impacts on Hawaii’s environment. And through our collaboration with the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation, we embrace and accept our kuleana to invest resources that strengthen Hawaii’s agricultural industry. With these ideals in mind, we will continue to grow in the future and increase Hawaii’s contributions to global agriculture and technological development.

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