David Stimpson
Oregon State University laboratory manager/quality manager

“One ship drives east and another drives west
With the selfsame winds that blow.
‘Tis the set of the sails,
And Not the gales,
That tell us the way to go.”

This is an excerpt from “The Winds of Fate” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox. I firmly believe in having opposition in all things. It is impossible to appreciate sweet without sour, light without dark, good without bad. Life is just boring without opposition.

Not only is opposition part of life, it is necessary for the growth and development of mankind. You’ve heard all the sayings: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” and “need is the mother of invention.” And so on.

You might be wondering, what does all this have to do with today’s seed industry?

In recent past, the seed industry has gone through some challenging times. Three issues come to my mind — GMOs, uniformity in seed testing and the issues surrounding Palmer amaranth.

In the 60s and 70s, the proliferation of weeds and insects and the excessive use of DDT led to research resulting in the invention of GMOs. As an industry, we believed the science was sound, the motivation was right, and everyone would certainly recognize this miracle of new technology.

We were shocked when those first shipments of grain were turned back.

In a meeting with representatives from the biotechnology companies, I recall the feeling that this would be a short-term problem — within five years everyone would realize the value of GMOs, borders would open and everyone would be happy eating GMO produce.

Oh, how little we knew! That was 19 years ago.

Better Because of It

What has happened since then? Biotech companies have developed stewardship systems and standards that, considering the scale of operations, rival that of pharmaceutical companies. The level of professionalism and training in their operations has increased accordingly. We have learned more than we ever intended about pollen flow, sampling technology and biomolecular analytics. And we applied that learning with efficiency and precision.

While GMOs continue to be a concern for many people, the industry is better today than it ever would have been without the opposition.

What about uniformity in seed testing? When widely variable test results were made public several years ago, many seed analysts felt as if they were under attack.

We took it personally. “Of course they are variable. They always have been because of seed lot variability, sampling error, analyst error, Rules vagueness, species not being in the Rules, and any number of other reasons. And, seed companies have been able to use the results of the tests to their advantage over the years. We can make a few overtures to the companies and this will go away.”

Oh, how little we knew!

Overcoming Obstacles

What has happened since then? Seed laboratories have implemented quality management systems within our own labs.

We’ve sought outside accreditations, begun mandatory proficiency testing for those that are accredited, provided more oversight by association leadership and added many species to the Rules.

Additionally, we have evaluated variability caused by the Rules and have begun communicating these things more openly.

While we still take it personally, things are getting much better because of that opposition.

Finally, we come to Palmer amaranth. Palmer amaranth is opposition. But what does it do for us?

It provides us with the opportunity to improve the industry. We will find ways to identify its seeds and seedlings more readily.

We will be better with weed control in our production fields.

We will condition seeds more effectively, And in the end, our systems and our quality will be improved because of it.

I cherish the opportunity to work in an industry that grows through overcoming opposition.