Hybrid Seeds vs. GMOs

hybrid seeds vs gmos

Hybrid Seeds. Genetically-modified (GMO) seeds. Heirloom seeds. The labels often confuse people. Not a single day passes without some well-meaning reader leaving a comment like this one: “GMOs are perfectly safe. Farmers and gardeners have been cross-breeding seeds like this for thousands of years. Take off your tinfoil hats, people!”

Um… no. Just no.

Farmers and gardeners have NOT been cross-breeding seeds like this for thousands of years. What those well-intentioned readers fail to understand is the fundamental difference between hybrid seeds and GMOs.


Hybrid Seeds: What are they?

Farmers and gardeners have been cultivating new plant varieties for thousands of years through selective breeding. They did this by cross-pollinating two different, but related plants over 6 to 10 plant generations, eventually creating a new plant variety.

The process required patience, but was rewarding. By selectively cross-pollinating related plants in this way, farmers could create varieties that were healthier and stood up to the farmer’s micro-climate — their soil, their weather patterns, their predatory insects.

Yet in the mid-nineteenth century, Darwin and Mendel discovered a method of controlled crossing that can create these desired traits within just one generation. This method produces what’s known as F1 hybrid seeds.

These hybrid seeds are just as natural as their historic counterparts; they’re still cross-pollinating two different, but related plants.

Hybrid Seeds: The Consequences

The biggest disadvantage of hybrid seeds is that they don’t “reproduce true” in the second generation. That means that if you save the seeds produced by F1 hybrid plants and plant them, the plant variety that will grow from those seeds (known as the second generation) may or may not share the desired traits you selected for when creating the first generation hybrid seed.

I like how Rebsie of Daughter of the Soil describes it:

When two dissimilar varieties are crossed, the result is a hybrid which will often be bigger, brighter, faster-growing or higher-yielding than either of its parents, which makes for a great selling point. But it’s a one-hit wonder. Subsequent generations don’t have the same vigour or uniformity, and the idea is that you don’t save seed from it, you just throw it away and buy some more. This is bad for the plants, bad for the garden and bad for you, but the seed companies make a packet out of it and gain increasing control of what we buy and grow.
(source)

While there may not be anything inherently wrong with this process, it does keep you dependent on seed companies year after year since you can’t save your seeds and expect the next generation of plants you grow to be identical to the first.

While this is a small nuisance to a home gardener, it can be devastating to subsistence farmers around the world.

In fact, this is precisely what happened. Dawn from Small Footprint Family writes:

When the peasant farmers grew these new hybrids, they were indeed more productive, even though they required more fertilizer and water. But when they collected and saved the seed for replanting the next season—as they had done for generations and generations—none of it grew true to the parent crop, little food grew, and these poor farmers, having none of their open-pollenated traditional varieties left viable, had no choice but to go back to the big companies to purchase the hybrid seeds again for planting year after year.

U.S. companies like Cargill intentionally disrupted the traditional cycle of open-pollinated seed saving and self-sufficiency to essentially force entire nations to purchase their seeds, and the agricultural chemicals required to grow them.

Most of these poor subsistence farmers never had to pay for seed before, and could not afford the new hybrid seeds, or the new petrochemical fertilizers they required, and were forced to sell their farms and migrate to the cities for work. This is how the massive, infamous slums of India, Latin America, and other developing countries were created.

By the 1990s an estimated 95% of all farmers in the First World and 40% of all farmers in the Third World were using Green Revolution hybrid seeds, with the greatest use found in Asia, followed by Mexico and Latin America.

The world lost an estimated 75 percent of its food biodiversity, and control over seeds shifted from farming communities to a handful of multinational corporations.

(source)

GMO Seeds: What are they?

Unlike hybrid seeds, GMO seeds are not created using natural, low-tech methods. GMO seed varieties are created in a lab using high-tech and sophisticated techniques like gene-splicing.

Furthermore, GMO seeds seldom cross different, but related plants. Often the cross goes far beyond the bounds of nature so that instead of crossing two different, but related varieties of plant, they are crossing different biological kingdoms — like, say, a bacteria with a plant.

For example, Monsanto has crossed genetic material from a bacteria known as Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) with corn. The goal was to create a pest-resistant plant. This means that any pests attempting to eat the corn plant will die since the pesticide is part of every cell of the plant.

The resultant GMO plant, known as Bt Corn, is itself registered as a pesticide with the EPA, along with other GMO Bt crops. In other words, if you feed this corn to your cattle, your chickens, or yourself, you’ll be feeding them an actual pesticide — not just a smidgeon of pesticide residue.

GMO Seeds: The Consequences

seeds of deceptionSadly, GMOs are a great, big scientific unknown.

On the one hand, biotech firms like Monsanto argue that the GMO seeds they create are so unique that they need to be patented — something that has far-reaching and devastating effects on the global economy. (Just ask Percy Schmieser.)

Yet on the other hand, the same firms argue that the GMO seeds are “substantially equivalent” to other seeds, so they have no need to be labeled, tested, or otherwise regulated.

So far, the U.S. government has allowed biotech firms to get away with this crazy juxtaposition. However, some testing of GMO seeds has been done in other countries, and it takes investigative journalism found in books like Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating to expose just what’s at risk.

Vickie Mattern of Mother Earth News summarized it this way:

The trouble is that nobody knows how these unnatural new organisms will behave over time. The seed companies that develop these varieties claim intellectual property rights so that only they can create and sell the variety. In some cases, companies — such as Monsanto — even refuse to allow scientists to obtain and study their GM seeds. For some crops, such as corn, wind can carry the pollen from GM varieties and contaminate non-GM varieties. And there is no mandatory labeling of GM content in seed, says Kristina Hubbard, advocacy and communications director for the Organic Seed Alliance.
(source)

Hybrid Seeds vs. GMOs

In short: Hybrid Seeds are nothing to fear, but you may not want to support them given that they fail to breed true and have caused so much global havoc. GMO seeds are far more unnatural and likely to cause harm — both to your environment and your health.

How to Avoid GMOs

Unfortunately, because GMOs aren’t currently labeled in the U.S., you have no way of knowing whether or not you’re eating them. Roughly 85% of all grocery store foods contain GMOs, and there only a handful of sure-fire ways to avoid them:

1. Opt to buy single-ingredient certified organic food.
2. Choose Non-GMO Verfied labeled foods.
3. Grow your own open-pollinated, heirloom variety plants.
4. Know your farmer and ask pointed questions about his or her growing practices, then opt to support GMO-free growing.


(photo by CIMMYT)

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Comments

  1. says

    THANK YOU for this. I have found that the vast majority of people who think that GMOs are no big deal have equated hybridization with the process that creates GMOs.

    For a future post… would you consider giving more examples of crops created with gene splicing, inserting animal, insect, (and like you mentioned, with Bt corn) bacterial matter into crops??

    Another thing to consider: Adding to the confusion, ESPECIALLY concerning Bt corn, is that Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) has long been considered a natural (even organic) form of pest control in the garden, and even in the guidelines of USDA Organic. (see: http://organicgardening.about.com/od/organicgardeningglossary/g/bacillusthuringiensis.htm) HOWEVER, the problem arises when the bacteria is genetically inserted into a variety of corn or other plant, which would NEVER naturally — not in a million years of evolution — grow to contain that bacteria in and of itself. It would never replicate in a plant, unless genetically forced to do so, as Monsanto’s Bt corn has done.

    It’s a great, big, hairy problem, with confusing roots, and the confusion is perpetuated by large chemical companies (like Monsanto) who want to keep the lie “GMO = hybrid” in the minds of consumers and farmers. :(

      • Katelyn Hamming says

        I was just wondering your thoughts on scientists genetically modifying bacteria to produce human insulin for use by people with diabetes and if this also equates to the harm of GMO’s.

  2. Lel says

    Thank you for this article. I have a better understanding of hybrid seeds now. As I was reading this article, a thought came across my mind.

    I have some really healthy hostas and every year, I let the flowers go to seed and new hostas grow every year in my planting bed from the dropped seeds. What is interesting is that the new hostas never look like their parents so my original hostas must have been hybrid hostas!

      • Cheryl .singh says

        Hi:

        Just look for organic (USDA Certified Organic) seeds Burpee has organic Seeds of Change are also available at walMart There are also organic seed catalogs available on line to order from. Just avoid the seeds in generic packaging. Also look for greenhouses that have organic seedlings. They are out there but it is not easy to find them.

        • Dae Todd says

          Wow [cheryl.singh]
          How can you promote Seeds of Change – a great company doing a noble chore – and Walmart in the same breath?

    • Christine says

      It is not because they were hybrid seeds, this applies only to annual crops; it is because the hostas have undergone mitosis, which is a natural biological process. If you have hostas of different cultivars or species, they will pollinate one another and this is why your seeds look different (flower from mom, pollen from dad). It is rather amazing the variation of phenotypic traits you can see in an F1 segregating cross.

    • Roseann says

      My thoughts exactly. I may print this to show to people who don’t understand the concept of genetically engineered foods.
      It’s clear, concise and understandable.
      Thank you Kristen!

  3. says

    Thank you so much. I understand all this so much better now. Yuck. GMOS in 85% of what’s in the grocery store? That is so wrong. We are poisoning ourselves. I wish there was a Facebook “share” button on your website, by the way, so I could easily share this with my friends. Thank you.

  4. Liz oke says

    Great article, I was aware of the GMO problems but not those from hybrid seeds and their dreadful social consequence.
    As always an interesting and informative article, well done for not letting the truth be hyjacked by big money x

  5. says

    It would be interesting to see a study of the long term effects of hybridization of strains. I know that it is hard to find any heritage wheat from most commercial sources, for example. Yet I have read accounts of some of the many people these days with some degree of glucose intolerance doing much better with heritage grains.

    Grains have been a staple in many healthy cultures for centuries and it is only relatively recently that there has been widespread problems with them.

  6. Heather says

    Thanks for another informative article, Kristen! My in-laws have started a produce garden this year, which I’m really excited about. However, they are talking about planting corn, which terrifies me. I’d rather avoid this crop altogether, but can you offer any suggestions for me to find a reliable source of non-GMO seed to buy for them? Otherwise, do I need to worry about the surrounding plants?

    • says

      Heather,
      Plenty of seed catalogs that carry organic or heritage seeds make it clear that they have verified non GMO seeds, esp. with corn. In fact one catalog I received didn’t carry a variety of corn one year b/c they were concerned about GMO contamination. Seeds for Change is a great catalog for finding these varieties.

  7. zDavid says

    What you may not know, and will probably never know, is that those “well-meaning” commenters are likely industry or government plants intending to sway public opinion. No pun intended.

    • KristenM says

      Maybe some are. I actually met a man in that position; he was part of a new breed of social media managers who went around Facebook and Blogs spreading the Monsanto love.

      That said, I think *many* are just ignorant of the facts and need articles like this one to help clarify their definitions a bit.

  8. Malaika says

    Just a random piece of information to go with this article. Once I was meandering around the web looking at different interface designs, and I came across this very interesting (and well designed) academic magazine. IIRC, it was a university in the Boston area, though I don’t think it was Harvard. It had all sorts of interesting articles on research different professors were doing. One was about malaria in a country in Africa whose name I forget (I think it was in the east), and how whole towns were being wiped out because the farmers were using a form of wheat that they were buying from multi-national companies. Unlike the traditional local grains, it pollinated at a different time of year. A time when the mosquitoes were just the right age to develop and feed on the pollen. The professor, who had been looking for the reason towns were suddenly becoming ghost towns, found that mosquitoes who fed on the foreign pollen lived 2 to 3 times as long, had half again the wing span, and traveled much further than regular mosquitoes. As local farmers switched crops, towns went from healthy and happy to mass graves when malaria spread by the super mosquitoes killed hundreds.

    At the time of the article, he was going around and advocating a return to the traditional grains in order to save the people. But the corporations had made deals with the government, and the government was paying farmers to use the foreign wheat. For these farmers who made so little, that extra money to use the foreign wheat made a huge difference. The professor was trying to educate both the farmers and policy makers, but he was up against some pretty big money.

    It’s no simple thing to introduce a new species of plant to an ecosystem. The results aren’t always predictable. When they create problems, the problems aren’t always easy to see and often aren’t highly publicized. Traditions often exist because people were observant and smart and figured out the way to do things so that the group as a whole kept on living and thriving.

  9. says

    Kristen, great description of the differences between GMO, traditional breeding programs and hybrids.

    However, while I think it’s important to discuss some of the social consequences of hybrid plants, I wouldn’t completely villainize these breeding programs.

    As a home gardener I save lots of seeds and use mostly heritage breeds. However, over the past few years I’ve started using a few hybrids when I’m intent on production or certain disease issues. Yes, I do lose my ability to save seed. But it’s a tradeoff that I decide is worth it on a case by case basis. I’m happy in these instances to outsource to the seed company that’s developed the hybrid for me.

    The big crime with hybrid seeds is the lack of information many farmers had about new seeds that were introduced under the Green Revolution. Certainly, there was plenty of manipulative and misleading marketing with these new seeds. Companies like Cargill took advantage of farmers by pushing seeds without sharing the full story or accounting for the farming systems in place.

    On the other hand, the farmers aren’t without responsibility. I fully applaud programs supporting farmers who seek education and literacy skills in order to be able to make fully informed decisions rather than just accepting seed company information at face value.

    At some point in the future, critically thinking subsistence farmers with more access to information may end up choosing hybrids for good reasons within their overall choices. The best choices for a farming family may be a mix of heritage and hybrid plants depending on the specific issues that farm faces for that specific year.

    Unlike GMO’s, hybrids don’t mess with nature and may serve a purpose. The problem is that farmers and gardeners aren’t fully informed/don’t ask enough questions/don’t think critically about the pros/cons of each. And because of the skewed farming systems and seed industry, heritage seeds are being lost, reducing our choices overall.

  10. says

    Thank you for helping so many of us understand this topic that can be so confusing. I recently started my first garden with my two little girls and have been trying to wrap my head around what kinds of seeds are best for us to buy. Would love to hear more about why you suggest heirloom varieties.

    I’ll be sharing this with my readers as well!

  11. Karen Scribner says

    It is very hard to find ancient wheat. There is some being grown in Virginia (or near there) that is descended from wheat brought from Croatia in the 1930s. Also, Kamut has been developed from an ancient grain and is always grown organically as required by its developer, Dr Bob Quinn.

  12. says

    I have no problem with Hybrids, I remember my father used to crosbreed apples in our garden (if I remember correctly) and they have all been everything that we call today “bio” or “organic”.

    GMO on the other hand is just very strange for me. I can understand that it might be a need for it, and that it might even be of a benefit in the next 100 of years, but I feel we have been fed something that is not really researched nor tested enough.

    Its just like that we (the people) are trying to beat several thousand of years of evolution with disputable modifications that don’t even sound like good science to me :(

    I avoid it at any cost.

  13. says

    Thanks for this excellent article Kristen, I used to equate hybrids with GMOs, but after reading this it’s become crystal clear how different they are. It’s disturbing how GMO companies take advantage of consumer’s lack of knowledge to promote their questionable products. information like this should definitely be widely disseminated to the general public

  14. Anna says

    Hello,

    I have read recently a very good article http://www.thepointmag.com/2012/essays/plea-human-food and I am curious if you think it’s true that you can heal an autoimmune disease following a strict Paleo diet. And can you give me some good resources about the Pakeo diet for autoimmune diseases? I’m asking you because I tried to do my own research on the subject , but information are contradictory. I have a friend who has Crohn’s disease and I really want her to get the best information on the subject.

    Thank you

  15. farmer joe says

    Environmentalist folks just keep drinking the cool-aid. They sit and write Their little misinformation books trying to get more folks hooked on lies.
    Here is the simple fact. Weather your food is Organic, GMO, Hybrid, or Conventional, ITS ALL THE SAME, AND ITS ALL SAFE!
    I am a fruit farmer that grows trees conventionally. I spray just like the organic guys do, allot of the time the same material. However, I am not an organic farmer, and reserve the right to save my crop and spray other materials. Some materials similar to the fly spray you would spray in or around your house. We are only allowed to spray pesticides on immature fruit so spray has plenty of time to dissipate. Peaches and nectarines get washed at the packing shed. All this equals a safe product , period. And it might come as a surprise to you but we are not trying to poison anyone! I feed my children the food I grow.
    As an organic farmer, you generally lose a lot more of your crop to diseases, and pest, compared to conventional farming practices. Therefore organic farmers need more money for their crops to sustain their farms. So, you are paying more money to a farmer to produce less fruit! Sadly some Americans have been duped by this hippie environmental mentality.
    Let’s say for the sake of argument that you ate organic your whole life, and added a few more days to your life. (and it’s a given that you don’t smoke, drink, speed, overeat, or abort babies, because it would make your whole argument even stupider if you did).
    Now let’s put things in prospective. Do you think an average child in Africa cares if he lives a few more days at the end of his life? Guess what folks, today, without any food, is the end of his or her life! With all due respect, America has become so hypersensitive, self indulgent, and spoiled that we don’t really understand what we have. Your American farmers grow the safest food in the world!
    People need to know GMO products like drought tolerant wheat is feeding people and saving lives all around the world. GMOs and conventional farming feed the world! not organic farming. How come It seems that only elitists countries, counties, or people want to ban GMOs!
    So, What is the real outcome of banning GMOs and supporting higher food prices, and farmers that produce less food organically? Maybe these elitists think our world is overpopulated and we need to starve some people off? Or maybe they just think its overpopulated in third world countries? The environmental organic movement borders on racisms! Think about it.
    As for me, I am an American Farmer, and I will to continue to grow awesome food to feed the world!

    • lock says

      well..farmer joe. sounds like they are paying you very well as a advocate. what is the name of your farm, and where are you located so i know not to eat your GMO produce.
      thanks

  16. says

    Thank you for this article. Although I knew the basic differences, I did not realize hybrid seeds are held in as much of a multinational stranglehold as GMO seeds. So very, very disappointing.

    On another note, I was dismayed to see McDonalds advertising on your site. I am 99% certain you don’t endorse, nor would you ever encourage, your readership to patronize mcdonalds. I’m hoping this is a function of an ad server that you don’t have control of??

  17. Barbara says

    Kristen, Thank you for the article. I do have a question that got me “a googling” this morning. I went to our local Farmers Market this morning. Just about everyone had corn…I asked if it was “Non GMO”, they looked at me like I had two heads and spoke in an unknown language…One of the growers had corn that was white and yellow…I asked him if it was “Non GMO”, he said yes, it is a Hybrid…I told him being a hybrid (crossing white corn with yellow corn) did not necessarily make it “Non GMO”. He said it did make it a Non GMO because they won’t grown properly if it was to be planted. I left scratching my head, because I had been under the impression that GMO and Hybrids are two separate things…They could take GM white corn and GM yellow corn and cross it to get the mixed on the cob, making it a hybrid, but it is still a GMO…Right?? I was reading in Mother Earth News that last year they introduced GMO corn in grocery stores…I never knew this…fortunately I eat very little corn…Am I to assume that prior to 2012, all the corn sold in produce dept. of grocer was non GMO? My instinct since all the uproar has been to avoid unless it says “organic” or “non GMO”. I also read in Mother Earth News that wheat has not been genetically modified…I have read that the problem with folks being gluten intolerant is a direct result of genetically modified wheat…this is all very confusing…Thank you for your time.

  18. says

    I really liked the article, just wanted to give you some input to make it even more accurate.

    What we commonly refer to as GMO are actually Genetically Engineered (GE). Technically today’s hybrids are Genetically modified. (Just like crossing a Labrador and a poodle).

    Genetically Engineering aspects of GMO is bringing in DNA and traits that don’t naturally occur in the species. (Like adding Beaver DNA to a dog).

  19. Larry says

    So you are saying you support genetic modification to create a hybrid as long as it is not done by a company? Or are you saying you don’t support GM in relation to pesticides, but you support GM in relation to hybrids?

  20. Si says

    Actually you’re wrong. Plant DNA has historically been influenced by bacteria and viruses. obviously that particular mutation hasn’t occurred otherwise we wouldn’t have to invent it, but frankly GMOs are the only way we’re going to be able to feed the world without deforestation. Also, putting pesticides in the crop isn’t the only way to reduce pesticide use, which is more than “a bit of residue”, it’s killing bee populations.

    I’m always fascinated that when scientists say “we’re causing climate change” everyone applauds, and when they say GM’s safe” everyone starts coming up with bad history and the “Appeal To Nature” logical fallacy.

  21. Mikael says

    Hi there. Thanks for info. One question – what is then the difference between the traditional way of cross pollination and today’s modern technology? And why cannot the modern hybrid seed varieties perform well in subsequent seasons why traditional seeds that have been cross pollinated are able to?

    Thanks.

    • Christine says

      Hey Mikael,

      Its called heterosis, and they use it in corn varieties (make crosses between two groups of corn, and the seed has better vigor than the two groups alone). Therefore, if you were to plant out the seed of that next generation of corn, it wouldn’t have the same vigor. The same goes with vegetables such as cucumbers, tomatoes, etc. They use different male and female varieties to make the hybrid seed, to allow for the best commercial quality products.

  22. Don says

    If anyone is interested, an alternative view of Jeffrey smiths work -this relates to his second book.

    “Genetic Roulette is Jeffrey Smith’s second self-published book in which he makes unsubstantiated claims against biotechnology. In it, he details 65 separate claims that the technology causes harm in a variety of ways. On these pages each of those claims – addressed in the same eight “sections” that correspond directly with the book – are stacked up against peer-reviewed science”

    http://academicsreview.org/reviewed-content/genetic-roulette/

    Unfortunately, I won’t get a big payment from Monsanto – unlike the ‘support’ food renegade gets when you purchase from its sponsors.

  23. Kori says

    bT corn is not fed to humans… Sweet corn is not bt corn and sweet corn is the only corn fed to humans… Nice try :) this bacteria is only harmful to one worn not humans or other large animals. It’s no different than good bacteria and bad bacteria to humans.

  24. Danny says

    So, I think there is a disconnect. While hybrid corn is not the “Same thing” as genetic modification as we know it.. It is genetic modification. It’s more of a “Random” genetic modification, instead of a specific one. Mutations exist in ALL living things. (This is partially what fuels evolution, along with natural selection) but these principles are also the reason why you can’t say one is wrong and not the other. You can just as easily make a killer plant with cross breeding as genetic modification. Even more so, as the mutations are not as controlled as they are through scientific genetic modification. The problem is, we are afraid of genetic modification because we are not used to it. I’m sure that some people might be concerned about that original corn that someone made look like it does from something that looks like wheat all those years back. Natural, does not inherently make it good for you. There are plenty of completely natural things that will kill you in a heartbeat. I think we all just need to take a step back and make sure that it isn’t just an acorn that fell on your head before we say the sky is falling.

  25. Danny says

    I would also like to point out: If you think that nature doesn’t cross kingdom lines in regards to genetics. I’d ask you a simple question. How do you exist? We have a lot of the same genes as some of these plants.. It is not that far fetched to put those genes into us because we came from those genes. We didn’t start out as a fish, something came before that. We didn’t start out as a monkey, something came before that, and that something wasn’t a mammal. So, how did we get here if nature was supposed to stick to human found differences in phylum. :)

  26. Ray says

    I’m not going to comment on the GMO portion of this article, just on the hybrid part, because I think this article misinforms the public. The author is unfair to criticize hybrids for “not breeding true”. A large part of the reason you get heterosis (i.e. hybrid vigor) is because the varieties that breed true were INBRED in order to do so. Inbreeding is the simplest way to get a genetically uniform, and thus physically uniform, product. As you can imagine, inbreeding in plants has consequences, just like it would in animals. You get an accumulation of recessive, deleterious alleles that you would not acquire in a cross-bred individual. You also lose the benefit of having different good alleles of the same gene (“over-dominance”). So, a big part of the reason why hybrids are bigger is that you are undoing the damage that inbreeding did when that cultivar was being bred.

    So then, essentially by definition, a hybrid will not breed true. When you take a hybrid and let it reproduce, each progeny gets a random combination of alleles from the hybrid parent. Some will be okay, some will be bad, and some will still be pretty good, but it’s a lottery. Again, this is simply how genetics and biology works — there is currently no way around this for a plant that reproduces by seed (as opposed to propagated vegetatively). One potential solution is to induce apomixis, but we are a ways off from being able to induce that at will and in the species that we want to.

    Hybrid vigor is not a phenomenon restricted to agriculture. It is a property of wild populations as well. Numerous ecological studies are focused on the amount of genetic diversity in wild populations. Small populations with low genetic diversity suffer from inbreeding, and thus poor physical qualities, compared to large populations with high genetic diversity. So if that’s the case, why don’t we let our fields be continuously open-pollinated, like our ancestors did with landraces? The reason is that we still benefit enormously from plants that consistently fulfill specific criteria essential for efficient farming, things like particular flowering time, maturity time, photoperiod sensitivity, stress tolerance, etc. Thus there is always a balancing act, and a lot of work goes into identifying plant lines that will satisfy all criteria, whether you’re creating inbreds or hybrids.

    It is wrong to imply that farmers do not benefit from hybrids — by getting higher yields, they will almost certainly recoup the seed cost and more from the increased harvest. The only way they would not is if some natural disaster wipes out their field. But even in pretty bad conditions such as drought, hybrids do better. Hybrids only need more fertilizer if you want to maximize the yield gains. In fact, hybrids were first popularized nearly a hundred years ago by pioneers of genetics such as George Shull, who saw the value of hybrids long before seed corporations even existed. The reason rural people in developing countries are poor is because there is not enough land to go around for so many people, so a lot of people are stuck on small plots, and they lack the economic infrastructure to transition to mechanized farming, e.g. the ability to get loans to buy farm equipment. All the while they are competing in a global grain market against farmers in developed countries, who are squeezing out very high yields thanks to irrigation, pesticides, fertilizers, and technology such as GPS-guided combines.

    But contrary to popular belief, people are not limited to seeds sold by large corporations. International centers exist where public sector breeding still goes on (CIMMYT, IRRI, etc). Many universities contain breeding programs within their agronomy departments, who are continuously creating new varieties (https://www.crops.org/publications/jpr/tocs/8/2). There are undoubtedly a large number of public sector plant breeders who are miffed by society insisting that somehow, they and their life’s work do not exist.

  27. Jon says

    Hi great article Kristen. Just wanted to add that Hybrid plants are fundamentally unable to uptake certain nutrients, which makes them much less nutrient-dense. They especially struggle to uptake those nutrients required for healthy seed production. I’m foggy on the details, but that was the gist of it. Look at the koanga institute nz website for more info. peace

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