Tag Archives: seed growers

Climate Change Impacts on Seed Growers

This past summer, an unprecedented amount of people have felt the effects of climate change. There was flooding in the northeast, wildfires in Canada that spread smoke across the eastern United States, record-breaking summer temperatures, and varying weather patterns. While we can’t say definitely how climate change will affect our local area and business, we do know that we’re already seeing some changes. Here are a few ways climate change is currently affecting seed growers.

High Temperatures

Not long ago, scientists referred to climate change as global warming, as overall, we expect to see an increase in temperature. Today, we call it climate change, as this better represents the scope of changes that will be seen across the globe. However, higher-than-average temperatures are still expected to be part of this change. In the last few years here in Virginia, we’ve seen higher-than-average temperatures across all seasons, including a few record-breaking days. 

Increased temperatures during winter may seem enjoyable, but they can also be problematic. Cold winters help to knock back certain pests and diseases. Additionally, some plants actually need a cold period or “cold vernalization.” While we can mimic this for some species by starting their seeds in a freezer or cooler, other plants, like hardneck garlic, need to be grown outdoors where there are consistently chilly temperatures.

High temperatures in spring, summer, and fall can also affect what plants we can grow seeds for or when we can grow them. Many cool weather-loving crops, like English shell peas, fail to produce well when temperatures are higher than average, meaning that we sometimes end up with less seed. High enough temperatures can also prevent crops from flowering or even kill some crops before they can go to seed.

They also affect how well plants are pollinated. If you’ve ever noticed more bees flying around your garden in July in the morning or evening rather than mid-day, it’s the heat. Many pollinators can’t move around and pollinate effectively in high temperatures. 

Person on tractor with equipment
Wood Prairie Family Farm Preparing for Fall Cover Crops

Increased Periods of Rain or Drought

While rain is a good thing, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Wet fields can spell trouble for farmers trying to get seed in on time. While you sometimes have plenty of wiggle room with crops you plan to harvest as fresh vegetables, crops that need to complete their entire lifecycle and mature seed often require the whole season.

Too much wet, humid weather can also cause trouble during the season too. Wet conditions can increase the occurrence of fungal diseases like powdery mildew. At the end of the season, like in July, August, and September, rain can cause issues again if it rains for long periods on seeds that need to dry out for harvesting. 

In an article written by the Guardian, one of our Seed Growers, Jim Gerritsen, owner of the organic Wood Prairie Family Farm in Bridgewater, Maine, shared his experience with growing organic potatoes for seed over the last 40 years. He described how increased rain has lengthened his harvest time. Jim said, “You dig on a Monday. Then on Tuesday, you get an inch of rain, so you’re not digging,” he said. “You take Wednesday to dry out, and then you get back in the field on Thursday; then you get another half-inch rain on Friday. You’re not digging on Saturday because the ground [needs to] dry out, so maybe you don’t get back into the field until Monday.” He needs about 15 good dry days to harvest, but the increased fall rains he has been experiencing now mean those 15 days are often spread out over four or more weeks.4

Fire damage to OR 126 McKenzie Highway from the Holiday Farm Fire
Fire damage to OR 126 McKenzie Highway from the Holiday Farm Fire that came near Adaptive Seeds

Crop Losses from Major Weather Events and Natural Disasters

While our first concern is always the people involved in these intense strategies, it’s important to note that they can profoundly impact seed growers and farmers. In the last few years, we’ve seen several growers experience or narrowly escape a total crop loss due to natural disasters like flooding, wildfires, and hurricanes.

Fires Near and Far

In an interview for Think Out Loud, Sarah Kleeger, the founder of Adaptive Seeds, talks about the tough decisions and work they had to put in when the Holiday Farm Fire approached within 10 miles of their farm in 2020. 

She told Think Out Loud that when they knew it was time to evacuate, they took all their seeds with them, which took 8 to 10 pickup and trailer loads. They were allowed and continued to go back to the farm wearing respirators to harvest additional seeds. Thankfully, the farm escaped unscathed, but Sarah said it was an important learning experience about what they may need to do again in the future.3 

As some of you may know, wildfires can also take a less sudden toll on crops. Smoke and ash in the sky can prevent crops from getting enough sunlight, causing slower growth. The ash and chemicals in the smoke can also clog plants’ stomata, making respiration and photosynthesis next to impossible.

Flooded Fields

Sadly, Hardwick Vermont’s Riverside Farm, an organic farm just miles from High Mowing Seeds, wasn’t so lucky. When record rainfalls hit Vermont early this summer, their fields, which they’ve been growing on for over 30 years, flooded entirely, and they experienced a total crop loss. Thankfully, the community that values this farm so much has stepped up to help them recover.

While these events may seem scattered, they’re happening with more frequency. While we’re glad both of these farms turned out okay, some may not survive losing an entire season of income. Losing just a single seed grower can also significantly impact small seed companies like SESE, Sow True Seed, High Mowing, or Fedco. This, in turn, affects the availability of seeds for gardeners and farmers and, ultimately, global food production.5

Changes for Native and Naturalized Species

Climate change isn’t just impacting the species we grow in our gardens. It’s affecting the plants, fungi, insects, and animals that share these locations with us. As gardeners, we may find that different weeds are present in our gardens or that fewer birds are visiting our yards. So far, one of the most notable changes for gardeners has been the loss of many pollinators and beneficial insects.

Unfortunately, we can already see that climate change is quickly contributing to the decline of insects. Recent studies have shown that 41% of known insect species have declined steeply in the last decade.1 These species make up the basis of our ecosystems, and many are now facing extinction. 

What Can We Do?

Reading about these issues can bring a sense of gloom and hopelessness, yet all is not lost. There are many things individuals can do to improve the plight of seeds.

Save Seed

As a gardener, one of the easiest and best things you can do is to save seed from at least one variety. When you save seed, you’re preserving genetic diversity and helping to adapt an open-pollinated variety to the changing conditions we face.6 

Support Small Organizations 

Small seed organizations need all the support they can get in these troubled times, and they deserve it, too. Many, like Adaptive Seeds, are working hard to adapt and breed varieties that will hold up well in this changing climate. That’s one of the reasons we’ve compiled a list of small seed companies on our website. Though not comprehensive, we’ve included seed growers from the United States’ northern, eastern, and western regions that support social justice causes, sustainability in farming and gardening, and saving your own seed. 

Diversify What You Grow

If you cultivate a large plot, whether as a gardener, seed grower, or farmer, now is a great time to diversify. Growing a mix of crops will help lessen the blows when you have rough years with certain crops. Growing a diverse mix will help show you what varieties and traits are best performing in your changing area.

Start a Seed Library

Starting a seed library is an excellent idea if you’re up for some community involvement. In addition to preserving genetic diversity, seed libraries help to revitalize communities, improve food sovereignty, and help adapt seeds to a specific area. Read the Mother Earth News guide to get started with a seed library.2


Climate change is here whether everyone accepts it or not. It’s affecting our farmers and seed growers across the country. Recognizing these changes and doing our best to adapt and preserve seed will help us see a hopefully more stable future. 


1. Daley, Jason. “Insects Are Dying Off at an Alarming Rate.” Smithsonian Magazine, 12 Feb. 2019, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/study-shows-global-insect-populations-have-crashed-last-decade-180971474/

2. Conner, Cindy. “How to Start a Seed Library.” Mother Earth News, 18 Aug. 2016. https://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/seed-libraries-ze0z1608zfol/

3. Hernandez, Rolie. “Climate change affects seed growers.” Oregon Public Broadcasting, 15 Oct. 2021, https://www.opb.org/article/2021/10/15/climate-change-affects-seed-growers/#:~:text=Drought, extreme heat and smoke,and entire losses of crops.

4. Nargi, Lela. “‘No normal seasons any more’: seed farmers struggle amid the climate crisis.” The Guardian, 16 Oct. 2023. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/oct/16/seed-farmers-climate-change

5. Singh, Rishi P, et al. “Impacts of Changing Climate and Climate Variability on Seed Production and Seed Industry.” Science Direct, Birsa Agriculture University, 19 Dec. 2012, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/B9780124059429000025

6. Van Eendenburg , Hannah. “Seed Saving at the Front Lines of the Climate Crisis.” Green America, greenamerica.org/story/seed-saving-front-lines-climate-crisis. Accessed 1 Nov. 2023. 

Seeds, Small Farms, and Resiliency: The Story of SESE Seeds

Neighboring seed farmer Edmund Frost (Common Wealth Seed Growers)

As most of you probably know, we’ve been inundated with orders this last month. We’re thrilled that folks are looking to our seeds during this challenging time but we’ve also had trouble keeping up. We’ve had to suspend taking new orders several times now while working to get seeds packed and shipped. We thought this would be an appropriate time to take a look behind the scenes at Southern Exposure.

The graph below compares the number of daily orders for some days in March and April from 2013 to 2020. Not shown in this graph is that we also saw an increase in order size. Folks that maybe would normally purchase just a few packets ordered more packets and larger packets (bulk sizes) this year.

The graph below compares some of the 2019 and 2020 sales by category.

Our Network of Growers of Small Growers

Did you know SESE gets approximately half of our seeds from our network of small growers? These are the seeds you see marked with a purple “S” on our website and in our catalog.

That’s a really high percentage of seeds!  Most larger seed companies buy most of their seeds from wholesalers – it’s a ton of work to fill all the seed orders that come in, and directly contracting with seed growers adds a lot of extra work on top of all that order fulfillment.

Each year about 60 small farms grow seed for us. Most are family farms with few if any employees. Some grow as little as one variety while others grow as many as 40.

Before each growing season, we make a list of seeds we need and send it out to our growers. We include a price per pound or ounce of seed and a range of how many pounds/ounces we’d like. The lower end of this range is estimated to be about 1 year worth of seed and the higher side is about 2.5 to 3 years of seed. The range may be different depending upon the crop type and how well it stores.

Almost all of our farmers, aim for the high end of the range. Different varieties need to be isolated from one another, so it benefits farmers to get the most they can out of each isolation plot. For the most part, we provide the option for growing one year of seed to avoid penalizing farmers who have a bad crop due to pests or weather.

Small Growers and the Pandemic

As far as the pandemic is concerned, we see a few benefits from our network of small growers. The first is that we purchase more than 1 year of seed. This helps us be prepared for years like this year when we received more and larger orders than expected. Also, on small family farms with few employees, we don’t see workers crowded into tight conditions that you see with larger industrial-scale operations.

However, many of our seed growers are older folks who would be considered at relatively high risk of experiencing serious side effects from COVID 19. We love our seed growers and are hoping they all have a healthy, happy, and successful growing season.

Wholesale Seed

We also purchase wholesale seed. These seeds don’t have the purple “S” in our catalog and on our website that seeds from small growers do.

We strive to work with companies that value organic agriculture as we do. Terra Organics, Seven Springs Farm, and A. P. Whaley Seeds are great examples of our wholesale sources.

SESE Seed Storage

Seed Storage

SESE Seed Freezer

Partially because of the quantity of seed we purchase at a time, we have a lot of seed storage. We keep our seeds in a walk-in freezer and climate-controlled storage room.

Seeds can remain viable for many years if properly harvested and stored. As we only want to provide our customers with quality seed with high germination rates, we only store for a few years at a time and test our seed each year.

What does the future bring?

  • If sustained, our unusually high sales mean that we might sell out of half of the varieties grown by our small growers. First, we’d run out of seed grown and then shipped to us in the fall of 2018, which we sold in 2019 and 2020. The seed grown in 2019 is expected to last through 2020 and 2021.
  • We expect our wholesale seeds already on hand to last until the fall of 2020 (some until late 2021).
  • We may sell out of certain varieties but we won’t sell out of whole crops.
  • Beans and southern peas were most affected by the sales surge. Pole beans in particular are difficult for growers because they require trellising which involves extra work and expense.
  • We had a few crops that were removed from the 2020 catalog due to lower sales that may be back for 2021 if we run out of other varieties.
  • We’ll be asking our growers if they’re interested in increasing their production by 10% this year.
  • You might see a change in the size of our seed packets to make things easier on our supplier, Cambridge-Pacific.

While not all of our seeds come from small growers, we feel supporting these farms goes a long way to making our company more sustainable and resilient. Thanks to all of our customers for joining us in supporting family farms each year.