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Cover Crops: Agriculture's Hero

Cover crops are the real heroes in the world of agriculture. Their job starts after a field is harvested and ends just before the next season’s crop is planted. Expectations for cover crops are high because if they don’t produce, the next crop may suffer.

After crops are harvested each year, planting fields are left bare. Runoff from rainwater, wind, and other forms of erosion devastate planting fields by stripping essential nutrients from the soil – nutrients needed for the next growing season. In addition to the loss of vital nutrients, the exposed fields are prime real estate for noxious-weed seeds intent on stealing what is left of the field’s nutrients. Replacing the lost nutrients and removing the weedy invaders costs millions of dollars each year for farmers.

Why Test Seeds?

Before the late 1800’s, there weren’t any standards or laws overseeing the seed trade.  This allowed individuals to take advantage of the unorganized seed market by selling low quality seed to buyers.  In some instances, what was sold wasn’t even seed at all.

Unfortunately, even the most seasoned seed buyers can’t always tell what they will get when purchasing seed.  Will the seed grow?  If it does grow, what will it grow into?  Will these seeds contain a disease that will hurt my other crops?  Will the packet contain other unwanted weeds that will reduce my yield, hurt my animals, or destroy my land?  The worst part is that the outcome of your purchase won’t be known for months after you buy and “try” to grow them.  In the late 1800’s, these questions asked by millions of people around the world led to the rapid development of laboratories tasked with using science to predict seed quality. 

Cultivating Seeds of Success in a Global Marketplace

Did you know that corn and soybeans account for 50 percent of the harvested acres in the United States?  Together, these two commodities had $106 billion in sales in 2012—not bad for products that start off as humble seeds.  The U.S. seed industry is valued at more than $7 billion, and accounts for 34 percent of the world’s international seed trade.  Our top seed exports are corn, soybean and sunflower seeds.  And the international seed trade plays an intricate role in what we call the American way of life, providing us the products we know and love.

In today’s global market, limitations in manufacturing capabilities, shifts in climate, or simple geography all impact a country’s ability to satisfy all of its own needs.  This means economies and agriculture systems around the globe are interconnected. Through trade, countries are able to market their resources to boost their economies and ensure access to a stable supply of food and products.

It All Starts with a Seed

Believe it or not, food doesn’t come from the refrigerator or even the kitchen.  It doesn’t even come from the grocery store or the farmer.  All food—whether meat, grain, vegetable or fruit—owes its existence to seeds.  Seeds are the backbone of human existence, providing us with the fundamental necessities needed for life: food, clothing, medicine, and shelter.

To protect the quality of these important, yet often forgotten, natural resources and to promote a robust U.S. seed market (current value of over $7.3 billion), Congress enacted a program over a century ago that would later evolve into what is now known as the Federal Seed Act. The act, administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) in Gastonia, NC, is a law that protects American businesses, farmers, and the general public from misrepresentation when buying seed.