Hawaii seed industry booming

Farmer demand for improved hybrid corn and new soybean varieties, and the trend toward planting corn for sale to ethanol producers are having a positive impact on Hawai’i’s expanding seed industry.

Also contributing to the growth of Hawaii’s seed industry is the continued rapid adoption of biotech crops around the globe. In 2006 total biotech crop acreage worldwide reached 252 million acres in 22 countries — slightly more than a 13 percent increase in biotech crop acreage over 2005 — according to the annual report issued in late January by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications.

Hawaii’s growing seed industry is now valued at $70.4 million according to the Hawaii Ag Statistics Service. It is exceeded only by pineapple at $79.3 million. Sugarcane, once Hawaii’s leading agricultural mainstay, has slipped to third place with a value of $58.3 million. The agricultural seed crop industry in Hawaii consists of seed corn, soybean, sunflower, cotton and others. Depending on the year, the value of the corn seed crop generally falls between 92 percent and 97 percent of the total Hawaii seed industry.

“Most of the corn planted around the world-including biotech corn-spent at least some portion of its development time in Hawaii,” said Sarah Styan, president of the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, in a press release. “Hawaii seed companies use plant breeding practices to produce both conventional and biotech parent seed lines. These seed lines are used to produce commercial quantities of conventional and biotech seeds for new and improved crops.”

Roughly 4,000 acres are planted each year with half of the total acreage dedicated to conventional crops and the other half to biotech crops. This is similar to the percentage of conventional and biotech corn acres currently being planted on the U.S. Mainland. Corn ranked second in biotech crop acreage in the U.S. in 2006, at 48.4 million acres — a 14 percent increase over 2005, with a little over half planted in biotech corn.

According to an economic analysis commissioned last year by the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation, the Hawaii seed industry today contributes approximately $144 million of economic activity annually to the state’s economy. This translates to $7 million in annual taxes to the state, $53 million in annual labor income, and more than 2,000 jobs.

“In addition to its significant contribution to the local economy,” Styan said in the release, “the seed industry also benefits Hawaii by providing jobs for people living in rural areas who do not participate in the tourism industry. Many of these jobs are high paying technical jobs that provide opportunities to graduates of our local colleges and universities who otherwise would leave the state in search of well-paying jobs. And it helps keep agricultural lands in production.”

The Hawaii Crop Improvement Association is an industry association representing member seed producers, which together operate on an estimated 8,000 acres on four islands.

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