Dirty Little Secrets in the Dirt
© Copyright 2009
If the ‘dirty thirties‘ messed up the dirt; ‘funkicide 50’s’ messed up the dirt, and we’re dirt, what’s next? How about what goes into the dirt?
Since the beginning of farming in history, part of a farmer’s job was to plant a portion of their crops for the express purpose of having seed to plant the following year. ‘Seed crops’ were given the best care as the farmer’s future livelihood depended on what many now call heirloom seed. Seeds were passed on from father to son and daughter and it was not uncommon to actually inherit these heirloom seeds at ‘the reading of the last will and testament’ of someone deceased.
Much of this age old tradition began to change in the 20’s with the introduction of hybrid plants.
Hybrid seed began with maize (corn), in the 1920’s, and later became extended to vegetables and flowers. In 1926, farm journal editor and future U.S. Vice President Henry A. Wallace, along with a group of Des Moines, Iowa businessmen, founded the “Hi-Bred Corn Company”.
Wallace had been experimenting with hybridization of corn and became convinced that hybrid seed corn would become important. By 1940, more than 90 percent of the corn raised in North America was raised from hybrid seed.
The development of hybrid seed had left seed production to seed companies for the practical reason that it is the most economical way to maintain appropriate inbred lines, and seed production can be isolated from the food production areas of open pollinating crops. But it had also prevented farmers from saving and replanting seeds, making it necessary to purchase seeds every season. That was good for business of course and the farmers were paying more for the seeds. The reason the farmer could not save seed grown from Hybrid seed was that the seed became sterile!!!!! No life in the seed meant no replication, no future. The seed companies had to preserve heirloom quality seed in order to keep the hybrid process going indefinitely. Follow the timeline below of the ‘Hi-Bred company’ and notice how often familiar chemical companies enter in.
The following is just one of several seed companies, Hi-Bred. Here is their timeline:
1924 Henry Wallace begins selling ‘Copper Cross’, the first commercial hybrid seed corn.
1926 Hi-Bred Corn Company founded in Des Moines, Iowa.
1931 Roswell Garst agrees to produce/distribute seed. The following year, Garst partners with Charles Thomas to form the ‘Garst and Thomas Seed Corn Company’.
1935 “Pioneer” was added to the name of the company to distinguish it from other hybrid corn companies. The full name is “Pioneer Hi-Bred Corn Company”.
1936 Pioneer founds Hy-Line Poultry Farms (later Hy-Line International), to produce hybrid egg-laying chickens. Henry B Wallace (son of Henry A Wallace), serves as president of Hy-Line until 1975.
We interupt this timeline for an important news flash
The ‘Dirties Thirties‘ remember those? After a report to Congress that soil had lost as much as 50% of its nutrients, the Soil Conservation Act of 1935 was passed. Immediately following this period, out of over 100 nutrients believed to be in soil, only potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilizers were used in abundance. Soil samples for comparison have been kept ever since. Now we begin to tamper with the seeds grown in soil that is already nutrient depleted.
1949 Pioneer reaches annual sales of one million units. – still involved with primarily corn and mostly for animal feed stock.
1952 “The Long Look” business philosophy is written.
1964 The first research station outside North America is established in Jamaica. Right, let’s move this to other countries.
1970 The company name is changed to Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. Right, let’s move this to the world.
1973 Becomes a publicly traded company. 1973 Pioneer obtains a soybean product line through the purchase of Peterson Seed Company.
1975 Purchases Lankhartt and Lockett companies (cotton seed business).
We interupt this timeline for an important news flash
Soil erosion and nutrient deficits occur in the 30’s from lack of crop rotation and removal of natural grasses from the Great Prairies. The solution is to heavily fertilize with potassim, phosphorus and nitrogen. In the 50’s, greater demand for higher yields cause farmers to grow products closer and closer together and pesticides are introduced, which are later found to destroy even more nutrients. Cross pollination of seed leads to hybrids which produce sterile seed. Now we enter the field of advanced chemistry.
Who has the best chemists and the most advanced equipment?
Please note the following words in italicized red and those underlined to follow.
1977 Pioneer acquires Microbial Products division to develop bacterial strains for inoculation into silage.
1978 Hy-Line International is spun off.
1981 Pioneer becomes the market–share leader in North America corn sales.
1982 Annual sales pass the US$10 million mark.
1983 The name of the soybean product line was changed from Peterson to Pioneer.
1991 Pioneer purchases 2 million shares and establishes a partnership with Mycogen Seeds to develop Bt insect resistance in corn, sorghum, soybean, canola, sunflower, and other seeds. Pioneer sold the shares in 1998. Pioneer becomes the number one brand of soybeans in North America.
1992 Pioneer paid $450,000 to Monsanto for rights to genetically modified soybean seeds that are resistant to RoundUp herbicide. 1993 Pioneer paid $38 million to Monsanto for rights to Bt corn that is resistant to European corn borers.
1995 Pioneer stock is listed on the NYSE as PHYB. 1996 Pioneer acquires 20% stake in Sunseeds Co. (a hybrid vegetable seed producer) in exchange for Pioneer’s vegetable seed operation.
1997 DuPont acquires a 20% stake in Pioneer and the companies form a joint venture called Optimum Quality Grains LLC.
1999 DuPont purchases the remaining 80% of Pioneer for $7.7 billion.
2006 DuPont and Syngenta announce Greenleaf Genetics, a joint venture to market seed genetics and biotech traits.
WOW, Chemical companies buying seeds, messing with seeds, messing with hybrids, messing with seeds with chemicals, and say what, messing with the genes of seeds? Seeds produce what? Oh right, plants. Plants that are genitically altered? Now why would they want to do that?
WOW, this stuff is really getting dirty! We are not done. There is much more to come and more ‘Dirty Little Secrets‘ to share next time.