Author Topic: The business of seed growing  (Read 1289 times)

William S.

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The business of seed growing
« on: 2019-03-09, 11:02:06 AM »
Some amaranths make dramatic fall flowers.

Selling one or a few wholesale seed crops to retail seed companies on contract is more lucrative and easier for most than selling plants or produce in farmers market.

OSSI Pledges new ornamental varieties and breeding material as well as edibles. :-)

I have questions about the business of seed growing.

The last two years I have had a wildlands seed collecting contract.

I've learned a little about vegetable seed growing contracts from trainings the local seed co-op has sponsered. I would like to join the local seed co-op but they require organic certification for membership and I've had limited time to pursue that but am avoiding any conventional products to keep that option open.

With the end of my current contract I may have the option to bid on a new contract soon.

I would like to get some small seed growing contracts I could do as well if so.

Otherwise I may end up working as a seasonal botanist again soon while not taking classes to become a science teacher.

What are the potentials for expanding my business into contract vegetable seed growing?

What about independent seed growing? Market the seed through my website?
« Last Edit: 2019-03-09, 10:40:15 PM by William S. »
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Joseph Lofthouse

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Re: The business of seed growing
« Reply #1 on: 2019-03-09, 11:39:14 AM »
Is there a possibility to grow wild species on your land that are highly lucrative as wildlands seed?


William S.

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Re: The business of seed growing
« Reply #2 on: 2019-03-09, 11:57:29 AM »
Potentially. Sometimes there are federal contracts for growing seed for wild species. Many of them go to a few farmers who do wild seed increase as a business. There is a local business already doing the same for the seed packet trade. I might approach them and ask if I could say contract with them to grow something they do not yet grow. Like Showy Milkweed "Asclepias speciosa".

One model might be that this is what I do with my summers once I am a science teacher. The fellow who runs J & L gardens in New Mexico did that until he retired from teaching. Another option might be to abandon the science teacher idea entirely and focus on the business. To do that I would probably need enough contracts to make at least a teacher's salary.
« Last Edit: 2019-03-09, 03:57:22 PM by William S. »
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rowan

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Re: The business of seed growing
« Reply #3 on: 2019-03-09, 05:06:06 PM »
From my perspective, may not be valid for the US.

Because I grow things that are not generally available here in Aus I can get away with not bothering with contracts. The one seed company that wanted to contract for seed caved in immediately I told them that I don't do contracts. If you grow something seed companies can't easily get then they will make allowances. The reason I don't do contracts is because with my harsh summers and wet winters I can't guarantee delivery of any specific variety. Although I get a general idea of what the companies want but I just grow what I want and they buy it. I can't keep up with demand.

As for selling on your own website, I have begun moving to that and am pretty happy so far with my orders. I have found that you have to make yourself an expert and give lots of free vegetable advice on forums and FB so that people trust you. Make sure your packets are reasonably professional looking, and offer really good customer service. This is my website: www.gardenlarder.net

Happy to answer any other questions about selling seed if you want :)
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William S.

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Re: The business of seed growing
« Reply #4 on: 2019-03-09, 05:35:25 PM »
One question I have is how much income can be generated just from selling seed packets online? Versus contracting or selling to other seed companies. I'm not so interested in traditional market gardening but would be very interested in a 1.5 to three acre seed garden. To do that I would probably need to get serious about fencing with accompanying expenses.

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Diane Whitehead

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Re: The business of seed growing
« Reply #5 on: 2019-03-09, 05:47:51 PM »
I read somewhere that the U.S. has regulations about selling seeds - I don't think they are as restrictive as the European ones which allow only approved varieties.  It might be about trueness to type, lack of weed seeds, percent germination.

And as a retired school teacher, I think it would be a shame if you give up on science teaching.  You could even have the kids involved in some seed-growing projects.
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William S.

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Re: The business of seed growing
« Reply #6 on: 2019-03-09, 06:36:28 PM »
I have an idea for integrating plant breeding and seed saving into various lesson plans.

Though I'm not completely sure about the idea of being a teacher. This is my third quarter working on it. It could take five more.
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bill

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Re: The business of seed growing
« Reply #7 on: 2019-03-09, 07:02:54 PM »
Seed farming is a lot like food farming - someone with better economy of scale will beat you every time.  So, if you want to make any money, you need to offer something unique that is not easy for someone else to scale up.

Most seed companies seem to be offering all the same stuff and trying to beat each other on cost or marketing.  This is an area where breeding new things can give you an advantage.

I suspect that being a science teacher probably pays significantly better than 99% of seed companies that are less than 10 years old.

Carol Deppe

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Re: The business of seed growing
« Reply #8 on: 2019-03-09, 09:28:58 PM »
Hello Richard. I checked out what you wrote on p 1 of the intro section. Sounds like you are juggling three things--taking classes to become a science teacher (presumably in winter), doing gigs as a contract botanist in summer, and gardening and plant breeding in summer. And you mention that the botany contracting often interferes with the gardening or eliminates it, such as when you end up spending all summer out of state. It seems to me that the contract botany and contracting in advance for ungrown seed crops would be incompatible. When you grow on contract for a retail seed company, they are counting on you. They might forgive an occasional crop failure, but not the level of failure to deliver your situation would likely involve.

However, there is no reason you couldn't grow a few likely seed crops without contracts and sell wholesale to retail seed companies without a contract. Retail seed companies usually prefer to buy what they need from inventory anyway, where this is possibe, rather than have to make a special contractual arrangement for the crop, and maybe end up with more or less than they need. However, this leaves you in the situation of gambling, as you may be unable to find a buyer for all or part of your crop. If you go that route, I'd suggest you learn to dry seed well enough for freezing and invest in a freezer just for seed storage. You will also need a good dehydrator.

To sell a dozen or so seed crops wholesale may involve a relationship with only one to a few seed companies. Usually you will need to prove yourself. Or get an intro from someone the seed company trusts.

As for selling packets retail via your own website, you will usually need to spend far more time packing seeds and running the business than growing the seed. And that will interfere with all other winter and summer employment. Very few one person or one family retail seed companies earn as much as a teacher's salary. Maybe none of the dozens I know of. Those that make it out of abject poverty usually struggle more than a decade and have employees before they get there.

Most one family retail seed companies are conducted in addition to a full-time job rather than instead of. Or are started after retirement from a full time job, so there is already a retirement income. Or one of the couple has a full time real job. Or is, indeed, a teacher in winter, and does seeds in summer, and spouse does seeds too. Or were running a farm or market garden already. Selling retail means a lot of work jan thru april filling seed orders in addition to growing the seed in summer. It takes MUCH more time and work selling seed retail than it does to grow it. selling wholesale need not take much time if its a dozen or fewer crops and a half dozen customers. Growing seed wholesale would combine better with teaching.

(Rowan and others in Australia and New Zealand are in a totally different situation. There is no equivalent to Johnny's, Fedco, Territorial, Hi Mowing, or Southern Exposure there--regional seed companies from which you can buy, mail order, an incredible variety of high-quality seed of regionally appropriate, excellent varieties. Most people in Australia and New Zealand buy packet seed of multinational companies from garden stores. Selection is very limited. And what there is is not necessarily of the best varieties. Quarantine laws make it difficult or impossible to import any seed of most food crop varieties without a government growout, a very expensive proposition. There are very few mail order seed companies, even tiny ones. In Australian and New Zealand, more mail order seed companies are desperately needed.) (In the USA there are already hundreds of small one family seed companies. So getting noticed is much more problematic. Though OSSI association probably helps.)

So, what to grow? If it's widely sold, there is no reason anyone is going to buy it from you at hand-processed prices rather than from their regular big wholesale grower, who sells it for cheaper. Ideal is if it is a new variety you have developed yourself. Especially if it is OSSI-Pledged. Any excellent variety that you have discovered in your trials that is not commercially available or commercially availabke wholesale is another possibility. You need to be able to make a case for why it deserves to be commercially available.

 In most but not all cases you'll do better trying to sell a reasonably uniform variety, not variable landrace material. The bigger retail seed companies have customers very few of whom save seeds and approximately none of whom want to breed plants. And they want every plant to be prime, not just some of them. There are exceptions. But they are a harder sell than pure varieties.

Beans and other legume seeds are problematic because of the possibility of spreading diseases. Most bigger retail seed companies buy certified bean seed from big wholesale growers in Idaho, where there is a huge state-run inspection program.

There are special opportunities in growing OSSI-Pledged Seed and selling to OSSI Partner Seed Companies. I'll address that in a separate email. Give me a few days.

« Last Edit: 2019-03-09, 09:48:57 PM by Carol Deppe »

rowan

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Re: The business of seed growing
« Reply #9 on: 2019-03-09, 09:52:56 PM »
This Youtube channel has some good seed growing videos for small seed producers. Well worth a look. https://www.youtube.com/user/eOrganic/videos
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William S.

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Re: The business of seed growing
« Reply #10 on: 2019-03-09, 11:20:16 PM »
It seems from what you say Carol like seed growing might best be kept as a hobby business and I shouldn't quit school. At least not for seed growing. I've chased the botany profession for the better part of two decades and it seems always just out of reach to get a really reliable income from it. Often I've been used as a seed collector. I've collected seed for two federal agencies as an temp employee and now a contractor.

Rowan, that YouTube channel has a tremendous amount of material on that link!

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Carol Deppe

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Re: The business of seed growing
« Reply #11 on: 2019-03-10, 11:01:34 AM »
Not necessarily. I think you are failing to distinguish between growing seed wholesale and retail. Retail means you become a retail seed company, and spend huge amounts of time packing seed and filling orders to gardeners and farmers. Wholesale means you grow one or a few crops and sell them to retail seed companies. As a wholesale grower, you would probably sell to one to a dozen retail seed companies. They sell to the gardeners or farmers. Some seed companies do both. But it's straight wholesale growing that would interfere least with other things.

I think these days even a job like teaching hs is not very secure. You're one bad/unfair boss or false accusation away from even a tenured position becoming unbearable or blowing up. Only being self employed gives any real freedom. Or being in a position where you have alternatives.

If I personally were in your situation, I think I'd go for a combo of teaching in winter and growing wholesale seed along with gardening and plant breeding in summer. Maybe take only the more lucrative botany contracts that interfere least with gardening and phase them out for wholesale seed growing once I was teaching. The contract botany work interferes with plant breeding and even gardening. And my guess is that it will become less rather than more reliable in the future. And being gone all summer doesnt combine that well with having a family, either.

Wholesale seed growing combines fantastically well with plant breeding and gardening. Both would combine nicely with teaching. You could build a wholesale seed growing business on the side while teaching, without needing it to provide more than extra income for the first decade. If the teaching goes well, you might do both happily until you have a retirement income and can do seeds as a supplementary income. If the teaching blows up, you would have a good start on an alternative business.  You would probably use the material from plant breeding in your teaching plus hire the best one or two students to help in summer. Note that being self employed generally provides no health care, benefits, or retirement.

Another thing that combines very well with teaching is writing books, by the way. If you're a good writer, consider adding it to your repertoire. Books of any sort, including novels, as well as stuff related to gardening.

However, those would be my approaches. I really love teaching. (And teaching in the form of writing books is something I keep in the mix.) (Something you might also consider.) You'll have to make your own choices. And there will be luck involved.

If I were a HS teacher these days, I would encourage all the kids to start now and develop something income producing on the side while still at home. Something totally theirs. Write a book. Develop an internet business. Start breeding plants or growing seed. The conditions associated with ordinary jobs are getting worse and worse. More and more is done via gigs with no bennies. Most university teachers these days are adjuncts with lousy pay, no rights, and no prospect of tenure. People working part time are often expected to be accessible 24/7. Meaning even a crappy part-time job may mean a full time boss and full time loss of freedom. There's more and more done with robots. AI is deskilling and eliminating even many middle class jobs. Big corporations use non-compete agreements to prevent you from getting a job in your field at all if you quit, meaning they dont need to promote you or treat you well. It used to be that many jobs were secure, once you had them. Not any more. Its a good time to become self-employed if at all possible.


William S.

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Re: The business of seed growing
« Reply #12 on: 2019-03-10, 01:24:28 PM »
Carol a lot of what you said seems to parallel my own thoughts. By hobby business I mean continue to follow Gene Logsdon's advice and don't quit my day job, or in my current situation school.

Going back to school is something I put off for a long time. Taking on actual or potential debt has never felt wise to me.

In the botany field more and more of the work is contracting now partly because of some of the things you said. In some locales that can provide a income without too much travel but not in mine. My recently ended contract had me traveling only to a adjacent state, but often it can be a couple states over. With seasonal temporary employment it is often the same especially if you desire to advance. Even within the permanent federal system most botany field employees move and apply for and take different positions, often ending as administrators.

Some of the folks I admire the most have in my view become what I think of as "feral" humans. Often in part by redefining what success means. At the same time I often find myself worrying about those same folks as they age will they have resources and be ok? Many are also clearly brilliant and it's an interesting commentary on society when its greatest minds drop out of its mainstream.
« Last Edit: 2019-03-10, 02:22:34 PM by William S. »
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Carol Deppe

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Re: The business of seed growing
« Reply #13 on: 2019-03-11, 10:24:06 AM »
I overlooked the possibility of the courses costing so much you might have to go into debt. Back when I was doing college, there was usually at least one very affordable college in every state if you were an instate student.  (I worked my way through U of Florida as an undergrad. For an instate student it cost only $90/trimester, which was almost nothing even then.) Colleges are increasingly pricing more and more students out of the market. And states are increasingly cutting funds and abandoning the mission of making higher education available to their citizens. Just a totally different situation now.

Is it teaching high school we're talking about? And do you already have a botany degree and need only pick up teaching credits, or need to do the whole 4 years? And is it a foregone conclusion that you would be able to get the teaching job? And without moving? If you would have to move anyway to get a teaching job, and/or if a teaching job was more iffy instead of a semi-sure thing, you might be better off moving to someplace where the botany contracting was more dependable and local.

A big question is whether you actually like teaching, and whether you would like it in the relevant age group and social situation.

William S.

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Re: The business of seed growing
« Reply #14 on: 2019-03-11, 12:58:49 PM »
It's complicated. I'm attending a smaller affordable in state school. I have conditional funding: if I teach at a high needs school for two years for each year of funding it's funded. If not it must be repaid. On the plus side, there are five potential qualifying schools within commuting distance.

The degree let's me teach 5th to 12th grade. I will take what I can get but have realized that I think more can be accomplished with the younger grades. It's a second four year bachelors degree. It will take me 5 more quarters for a total of 8 quarters to complete. I don't know of a masters program with certification or I would go that route.

Moving to say the greater Los Angeles area to be a contracting botanist might work but housing may be unaffordable there.
Western Montana garden, glacial lake Missoula sediment lacustrian silty clay mollisoil sometimes with added sand in places. Zone 6A with 100 to 130 frost free days