The Seed Is Where It’s At

By Steve M. Brown

In the mid-1990s before our entry into the transgenic era, a bag of cotton seed cost around $35. Formerly, a bag was a standard 50 lbs., though in the old days 100-lb. bags were sometimes used. In 2023 in parts of the U.S. Cotton Belt, the cost of a bag may reach $800 and weigh 33 to 55 lbs.

Today that bag is a specified seed count unit — a common example is 230,000 seed per bag — which includes genetics, built-in herbicide tolerance and insect management traits, possibly nematode and bacterial blight resistance, and added, sprayed-on crop protection products. In the mid-1990s, we entered the Golden Era of the SEED. 

Pardon my grammar, but the point is — the seed is where it’s at.

More and more aspects of production are associated with seed. The physical seed, the small kernel from which we propagate our beloved crop, represents only a fraction of the total cost as compared to associated technologies and seed treatments. Yet seed remain the all-important carrier for everything.

In modern agriculture, the science of seed is critical to cotton and every major row crop. Beyond breeding efforts for advancing cotton yield and fiber quality, seed technology — that is, all that goes into seed production, processing, handling, treating and packaging — is a science that is essential to having quality planting seed.

Growers pay a premium price for seed and should receive a premium product. Given all that is in and on seed, companies need the best possible knowledge and innovations associated with seed quality … because the seed is where it’s at.

Who is advancing the science of the seed itself? Seed technology was once a discipline and course of study in some agricultural universities. Today, with all the importance of seed, that science is desperately needed for crop agriculture.

Is anyone training those who can improve seed quality in the field, at the gin, in the delinting process, at the packaging and treatment facility, and in warehousing and shipment? We need seed experts, those who focus on seed … because the seed is where it’s at.

A generation ago, one of the states at the heart of the U.S. cotton industry closed its doors on a seed technology program as retirements occurred. It is surprising that all the seed and cotton interests in that state permitted that loss and disappointing that industry and farm leaders didn’t insist that their land-grant university continue such a needed scientific initiative.

The opportunities for such a program are great and will no doubt increase for the future … because the seed is where it’s at.

Recent seed quality issues have prompted renewed focus on seed quality. Users (farmers) and suppliers (seed companies) need an ever-expanding knowledge base associated with seed production and processing. The Extension Cotton Specialists working group, with support from Cotton Incorporated, has had multiple projects on this issue. Our interests have been warm and cool germ variations and other possible predictive measures of seed performance.

We applaud the extensive research and contributions of Lori Snyder at North Carolina State University, particularly in the realm of visual mechanical damage.

Still, the importance of seed warrants commitments from land-grant institutions to initiate programs associated with seed technology, to TEACH and TRAIN the next generation of seed experts and to ADVANCE KNOWLEDGE for providing the best possible product … because the seed is where it’s at.

   — Steve M. Brown
Auburn University

Cotton Farming’s back page is devoted to telling unusual “farm tales” or timely stories from across the Cotton Belt. Now it’s your turn. If you’ve got an interesting story to tell, send a short summary to We look forward to hearing from you.

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