WEDC explores the future of seed data and selection
Viroqua, WI. Aug. 19, 2022 – Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes and Deputy Secretary Sam Rikkers visited Circadian Organics outside Viroqua on Friday to explore SeedLinked Co.’s plant breeding platform.
“We were fascinated to learn about SeedLinked and the numerous applications it has on a farm like Circadian Organics,” Hughes said. “The platform is already so impressive, yet it will only continue to grow and improve as a resource for planters and researchers around the globe.”
Hughes and Rikkers toured the farm and participated in a tomato tasting. After sampling three different varieties, they rated the tomatoes’ sweetness, acidity and other traits, data which went into the SeedLinked database and will be available to inform and benefit tomato growers worldwide.
Founded in 2018, SeedLinked offers a new, tailored approach to seed selection and crop growth. Users’ geolocated reviews detail seed performance and inform others of which variety might be most successful in a specific region. Whether you’re a gardener growing produce for yourself or a farmer cultivating on a large scale, SeedLinked’s platform improves results and saves you money.
“When growers can find the right variety that will have higher disease resistance and is better adapted to the local growing conditions, they can see a 20% increase in yield and productivity,” said Bjorn Bergman, co-founder and marketing lead at SeedLinked Co.
The SeedLinked website includes an aggregated marketplace where, currently, 12 seed companies sell their products in the United States. With user reviews included, the marketplace offers an integrated experience for growers to make educated and convenient seed purchases.
“It shifts the locus of information about seeds from the hands of seed companies, who tell you what they want in a seed catalog, to the hands of growers, who get to share their experiences with one another,” said Dr. Solveig Hanson, project lead for the Canadian Organic Vegetable Improvement Program (CANOVI) at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
Hanson uses SeedLinked to improve and speed up her program’s variety testing. In the first year of CANOVI’s current, five-year trial, Hanson had to manually enter participants’ data before composing reports. Now, with SeedLinked, growers can access results as soon as trials end and have time to select seeds for the following year. Hanson and CANOVI strive to fill market gaps and meet growers’ needs across Canada, and SeedLinked is an instrumental part of that process.
“It’s an amazing tool for researchers like me who are trying to aggregate data in these organized ways,” Hanson said. “I also love that it allows anybody, whether or not they’re a professional researcher, to do a variety trial with their community members or people elsewhere in the country and gather their own data on crops that are important to them.”
SeedLinked is helping seed breeders and researchers at the University of British Columbia, as well as at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Seed Savers Exchange and elsewhere, to get new seed varieties into circulation.
“These groups run variety trials for different reasons, but a lot of them don’t have a clear pipeline from variety creation to commercialization,” Bergman said. “Our software is aimed at increasing communication at all steps of that pipeline and getting greater adoption of new varieties in the market.”
In 2022, SeedLinked’s network consists of 5,500 accounts worldwide, most of which are in North America. Internationalization efforts involve translating the platform to different languages, including French and German for a European Union grant. Groups elsewhere have expressed interest in or begun using SeedLinked. Specialty vegetables aren’t the limit, though, as SeedLinked has begun extending itself to cover crops and sees opportunities with flowers and other perennial crops.
“SeedLinked connects the untapped knowledge of 500 million small growers worldwide that produce 70% of the global food supply via crowdsourcing technology,” said CEO Nico Enjalbert. “We dream of an agricultural system that has greater crop diversity, is more connected to help all stakeholders in the seed supply chain and builds a better world.”
Co-founder Dylan Bruce started Circadian Organics with his wife Skye in 2018. Located just outside Viroqua on the land Bruce grew up on, the farm sells 60 boxes of produce a week to a roughly 100-member CSA, mostly in the Madison area, while also doing contract seed production for regional companies. This past growing season, Bruce purchased all of his farm’s seeds through SeedLinked.
“It really helps guide purchasing decisions and answer the essential annual question of what I’m going to grow,” said Bruce, who is also the business development lead at SeedLinked. “A lot of people think a farmer who’s been growing for five years knows what to continue growing, but the reality is that we have changing consumer preferences and a changing climate that causes new pests and diseases to emerge.”
Bruce sees SeedLinked as a solution to the shockingly antiquated seed purchasing process, which, besides for the emergence of online stores, has remained mostly unchanged since the 19th century. With Circadian Organics, he’s experienced firsthand how beneficial a one-stop seed shop can be.
For operations like Circadian Organics, SeedLinked has the additional function of streamlining the organic certification process. Bruce uses SeedLinked to track his search for organic seed varieties and, if unavailable, demonstrate to his certifier that he sought out organic options of a given vegetable before settling for a non-organic product.
“I have to show that I searched for an organic alternative, and instead of finding and calling four different seed companies, now I can do it with a single search on the SeedLinked platform,” Bruce said.
While giving Hughes and Rikkers a tour of Circadian Organics, Bruce explained the unique challenges associated with specialty crop farming in the Midwest, where corn and soybean often overshadow other vegetables. A seed company recently discontinued Bruce’s favorite carrot variety, as did another with Bruce’s favorite bell pepper.
“Companies have so much focus on Florida and California that they lose sight of our region,” Bruce said. “We have very unique production needs, whether it’s the humidity causing diseases or winter temperatures shortening production seasons.”
SeedLinked is one of many companies that has benefited from WEDC’s Qualified New Business Venture (QNBV) program. The QNBV program is intended to encourage equity investment in technology-based businesses in the state of Wisconsin. By giving eligible angel and venture fund investors a Wisconsin income tax credit equal to 25 percent of the value of their investment, the program helps tech-based startups develop products, enter markets and create high-quality jobs as they emerge in their industries.
“It was super vital for SeedLinked to be part of that,” Bergman said. “We were able to hire a couple other people and keep more developers hired for a longer period of time. It’s just helped us develop more of our software and fully develop the first iteration of our marketplace.”