Frequently Asked Questions

Why does the seed industry exist?

The seed industry is committed to developing better seed for a better quality of life. Better seeds provide economic benefits, improve the environment, and enhance health and wellness. For example, thanks to improved seed, Americans spend less money on food than their counterparts in many other developed countries; farmers can produce more crops from the same land; and families have access to more nutritious produce. In fact, some of the biggest challenges our society faces – from food and energy security to protecting our natural resources – can be addressed through the improved seed.

What is the American Seed Trade Association?

ASTA is the leading voice of action in all matters concerning the development, marketing and movement of seed, associated products and services throughout the world. The association promotes the development of better seed to produce better crops for a better quality of life. Founded in 1883, ASTA is one of the oldest trade organizations in the United States. Its membership consists of over 700 companies involved in seed production and distribution, plant breeding, and related industries in North America. As an authority on plant germplasm, ASTA advocates for science-based policies of industry-wide importance.

Where can I find information about seed careers?

National FFA and Discovery Education have joined forces to create a robust, comprehensive career resource to help you explore the broad range of careers within the industry of agriculture. Start exploring at Agriculture has a variety and abundance of careers that fit within nine focus areas. Careers skills include: using advanced equipment, creating new hybrid seeds, raising animals, managing people, designing new products and packaging, and much more. For additional student resources, including classroom curriculum, visit the First the Seed Foundation.

What is plant breeding?

Mankind has been breeding plants since the dawn of plant domestication, roughly 12,000 years ago, when they started selecting seed of the best plants for planting the next crop.

Plant breeders improve seeds by identifying desired characteristics in specific plant varieties, selecting those with the greatest genetic potential, and combining them to produce offspring with those desired characteristics. They use expertise from a variety of scientific disciplines to measure and identify desired qualities. This helps them predict which plants will have the greatest genetic potential. Thanks to seed improvement, farmers can count on increased varieties of crops, consistent and reliable harvests, and food that stays fresher longer. The result is increased quality and quantity of our food supply, quality of life, and a more sustainable future – meaning that future generations will be able to meet their food needs too.

How has plant breeding changed?

Fundamentally, plant breeding has not changed. As our understanding of plants has increased, we have new breeding tools and better understand how the plant operates. Historically, plant breeders focused solely on the observable characteristics of the plant and how those characteristics could be improved, such as increasing yield or creating disease resistance. Breeders’ most valuable tools to select improved plants were their sense of sight, taste and smell. Today, with an increased understanding of genetics, the capability to sequence plant genomes and the ability to link a specific gene(s) to a specific characteristic, plant breeders are able to more precisely improve a plant’s characteristics by efficiently focusing on the underlying genetics. Breeders can also make specific changes in existing plant genes in a way that mimics the changes that occur in nature. Equally important, breeding improved varieties can be accomplished in far less time than ever before. For more information, see the Milestones in Plant Breeding Infographic.

What is a hybrid?

A hybrid is the result of pollinating one specific variety of a class of plants with the pollen of another genetically different variety of that class. While a hybrid can occur by chance, within the seed industry hybrids are the result of the cross breeding of carefully chosen “parent” plants that produce “offspring” (seeds) that will have special characteristics. (source: National Garden Bureau)

What is a GMO?

A GMO (genetically modified organism) is a plant that has been altered using genetic engineering methods that introduces a gene from another plant or organism to create a desired trait – such as healthier oils, resistance to an insect, or drought tolerance. For more on GMOs, visit

What is gene editing in plants?

Gene editing is the most recent breakthrough in a continuum of breeding methods that have been used to develop more beneficial food for centuries. Our growing understanding of plant genetics allows this to happen in years, rather than decades. In many cases, the changes made through gene editing could happen naturally – or through more traditional breeding methods – but in a more targeted and precise way. Gene editing holds tremendous potential for the future of our planet, our health and our food. For more information, visit

Are gene edited plants the same as GMOs?

Both gene editing and genetic modification are methods used to improve or strengthen a plant, but there are some important distinctions between them. Unlike the process to develop a GMO, gene editing can allow breeders to work within a plant’s own family,  without the need to introduce foreign DNA in the final product. This use of gene editing can reach the same endpoint as more traditional breeding methods, but in years, rather than decades. In many cases, the same changes made through gene editing could happen naturally through an evolutionary process, but in a much more precise and targeted way.

Do plant breeders develop varieties for organic production?

Yes, plant breeders develop varieties that are used specifically in organic production for commodity crops like corn, soy and wheat as well as vegetables. These seeds must be bred and grown in compliance with USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) stringent regulations and also keeping in mind the organic production methods used by their farmer customers.

Is plant breeding regulated?

Whether produced through traditional plant breeding, or through newer innovative breeding methods like gene editing, all new plant varieties go through rigorous testing for safety and quality before their seeds are ever sold to farmers. This includes federal and state laws and regulations, and plant breeder, grower and food company standards. For more information see the Safety of New Food Crops infographic.

Why are seeds treated?

Seed treatments provide farmers with an economical means of protecting seeds and seedlings against early-season insect pests and diseases. This results in stronger and more uniform stands, healthier plants and higher crop yields. It is essential that those who treat, handle, transport, and plant treated seeds manage them properly and in accordance with label instructions to minimize the risk of pesticide exposure to humans and the environment. For more information, visit the Guide to Seed Treatment Stewardship site.

Are seed treatments regulated?

Pesticides applied as seed treatments undergo rigorous testing and review by federal and state regulators to ensure their safety to applicators, wildlife and the environment. Additional actions have been taken to protect pollinators, including enhanced coating polymers and application processes to increase pesticide adherence to seeds, as well as new flowability agents that help minimize seed dust-off during planting.

Do seed treatments impact bee populations?

When used in accordance with label instructions, seed treatments have been determined to pose no detrimental effects to bee populations. After extensive research, USDA concluded that the parasitic mite Varroa destructor is the single biggest threat to honeybees, and is closely associated with overwintering colony declines (Report on the National Stakeholders Conference on Honey Bee Health, October 2012). For more information, visit

Are farmers required to buy seeds every year?

Farmers are allowed to save seed for use on their own land, as long as it only has Plant Variety Protection (PVP) protection, the seed IP has expired and there are no additional contractual terms or restrictions. Farmers that want to use seed without restrictions can obtain public varieties through: USDA’s National Plant Germplasm System or land grant universities. Different seeds have different requirements. Talk to your seed dealer about specific requirements for your variety. For more information, visit the Seed Innovation & Protection Alliance.

Can I replant seeds from my garden?

It depends. Always refer to the seed-packet label instructions for specific requirements about the variety you are growing as well as for any restrictions for use. A hybrid seed, for example, combines the best characteristics of both parents into one offspring, giving better performance in desired traits such as insect and disease resistance, even ripening, etc. These characteristics will be lost in the next generation of planting. Therefore, to maintain the same level and consistency of performance, it is recommended to plant the new hybrid seed each year. On the other hand, an open-pollinated variety will maintain its characteristics from generation to generation, and many home gardeners successfully plant open-pollinated seeds they’ve saved from their gardens.

Why is seed patented?

With the advancement of seed innovations, we can make better food that is more sustainable and better for our environment. The U.S. Seed Industry reinvests approximately 10% of the estimated total annual seed value, between $16 and $17 billion, into research and development.* Approximately $1.6 to $1.7 billion in annual research and development brings innovations. Innovations from the seed industry help address many of the economic, environmental and health issues we face as a global society. Seed innovation means farmers can produce more food from the same land; we have access to an abundant supply of healthier and more nutritious food; and food waste is reduced, through better produce that stays fresh longer. For more information, visit the Seed Innovation & Protection Alliance.
* sigma™Seed, Kynetec (2016)

What information is included on a seed label?

When farmers buy a bag of seed, they’re getting a lot more than just seed. They’re getting expertise and valuable services that support their overall success throughout the year. See our “What’s in a bag?” infographic for information on how to read a seed label. Seed labels are determined by federal and state seed laws, so they may differ from state-to-state.

Where can I find more information about purchasing hemp seed?

The legalization of hemp provides an exciting opportunity for the seed industry. However, it’s important that there is consistency in quality so growers know what they’re getting. See ASTA’s How to Read a Label on a Bag of Hemp Seed and Laws, Regs & Other Considerations when Buying Hemp Seed for more information.

Is hemp seed regulated?

The legalization of hemp production essentially introduces a new crop variety into the marketplace. If a grower does not want to, or cannot source Certified seed, he/she should pay close attention to seed sourcing. Hemp seed production is complicated and requires extensive education and experience. Therefore, to ensure the highest quality seed for growers, buyers should always be sure to buy from a professional seed producer. State and federal seed laws are in place for the benefit of the grower and the producer. Whether it’s for your agricultural production, conservation planting, or backyard gardening, it pays to know that the seed you purchase is exactly what you desire – and state and federal seed laws are in place to ensure the quality and consistency of that seed.

In addition to connecting with American Seed Trade Association (ASTA), the following sources provide useful information:

Innovature provides information and communications resources about plant breeding innovations like gene editing. is a website dedicated to creating an open dialogue on the topics of biotechnology and GMOs in food and modern agriculture. From health and safety to a look at how GMOs are made, GMO Answers was created to make information about GMOs easier to access and understand.

Guide to Seed Treatment Stewardship provides farmers and seed companies with critical information and up-to-date guidelines for managing treated seeds effectively to minimize the risk of exposure to non-target organisms.

The First the Seed Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization established in 2008 by the American Seed Trade Association, one of the oldest trade associations in America, to inform today’s consumers and tomorrow’s workforce about the importance of the seed industry.

Global Crop Diversity Trust is an international organization working to safeguard crop diversity by promoting the conservation and availability of plant and seed diversity.

ISU Seed Science Center is the largest public seed testing laboratory in the world. It offers testing services for more than 300 species of crops, vegetables, flowers, and trees and also provides educational and training modules.

Svalbard Global Seed Vault is an official site of the Norwegian government and provides information on the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the world’s largest secure seed storage, opened by the Norwegian Government in February 2008. The vault holds the seeds of many tens of thousands of varieties of essential food crops such as beans, wheat and rice. In total, the vault now holds seeds of more than 864,000 varieties representing 4,000 plant species.

UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center mobilizes the research, educational and outreach resources of UC Davis in partnership with the seed and biotechnology industries to facilitate discovery and commercialization of new seed technologies for agricultural and consumer benefit.

International Seed Federation is a non-governmental, nonprofit making organization. ISF is widely regarded as the voice of the global seed industry.