Seeds as Foundation of Farming

From high school days we have been told that Indian agriculture is at the mercy of monsoons. Probably as a result, when we think of successful agriculture we think of water as the single most important factor. Agricultural production is a result of combination of many factors from availability of water to introgression of latest technology. The most defining single input however is ?Seed?. Broadly speaking seed is planting material that is used for propagation or regeneration and even may include cuttings, grafts, etc. Botanically however a true seed is fertilized, mature ovule consisting of an intact embryo, endosperm and or cotyledon with protective covering referred to as seed coat. This type of seed is the one which makes combination of new or improved traits possible and hence is a cornerstone for advancement of agricultural technology and productivity.

High quality seeds have proven to be the most vital input for the modern crop production. It is a basic tool for assured food security and a high return per unit area. A seed has the ability to fully utilize the genetic potential of the crop for improved results. High quality seeds respond well to the applied nutrients and possess high genetic purity as well as a high germination percentage, which greatly contribute to increased crop yield. The health of a seed is also determined by the presence or absence of pest and disease causing organisms. Premium quality seeds are assessed for traits like genetic purity, physical purity, health standards, germination and moisture percentage in accordance with the minimum seed certification standards (State Seed Certification Agencies).

In traditional farming, farmer saves part of his produce to be used as seed in the following season. This is a relatively inexpensive seed source for him. These are what are termed as open pollinated seeds collected by farmer in mostly non-scientific way and typically will not match the purity standards of certified seeds. It will lead to crop showing variation in plant type, plant stand, etc. eventually affecting quality and quantity of final yield. Other than open pollinated seeds, other type is ?Hybrid seed?. The commercial hybrid seeds are produced by combining two parents and are superior with respect to pest and disease resistance, quality of produce, higher yield, etc. Significant time and efforts are spent by agricultural scientists to identify and develop parents for making the hybrid seeds. As a result, compared to open pollinated seeds, hybrid seeds may be expensive to begin with but the quantity required per acre for planting is usually much less and yield per acre obtained is significantly higher making the final outcome at farmer?s end much desirable on a returns per unit area basis.

Future technologies are making inroads in the development of next generation of super crops. Seed acts as a carrier of new technologies. Some of these are herbicide tolerance for efficient weed management in a field, improved nutrient use efficiency requiring less fertilizer, higher water use efficiency or drought tolerance making production possible under low available soil moisture, improved pest and disease resistance against insect pests, as well as viral, bacterial and fungal diseases. These traits can be stacked so the seed carries them all to the next generation of crops.

Over the years, technology has played an important role in the continuous improvement of agricultural sciences and to secure higher crop yields. Seed is the carrier of these technologies for better farming. It will help only when farmer has access to the new and improved seeds. If our farmers do not have access to good quality seeds with right combination of traits, it will hurt the agricultural growth of India. It is time we embraced new technologies and sow the seeds of development for happier agriculture and progressive nation.