by Leanna Sweha
Seed Central is an initiative of UC Davis and the online news service SeedQuest. Its mission is to help grow the region’s seed industry. Since 2010, Seed Central has been facilitating communication and research collaboration between the industry and UC Davis.
Francois Korn, Seed Central’s Managing Director, calls the initiative a catalyst for industry growth in the region.
Korn and Kent Bradford, Ph.D., Director of the UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center, founded Seed Central in 2010. Korn had started SeedQuest years earlier to provide an information clearinghouse for the global seed industry, a resource he says that was badly needed.
Seed Central was a response to similar needs of the over 100 seed and seed-related companies located in the region. These companies were looking for new employees, but fewer graduates were entering the seed industry. There was interest in increasing collaborative research with UC Davis, but knowing where to make initial contacts and how to start the conversation could be confusing and difficult.
Seed Central promotes the benefits of operating within the local industry cluster to ensure that the region retains its preeminence among competing seed and ag-biotech hubs. “We open doors for industry and help them save time in making contacts on campus.” Korn said.
Seed Central is self-sustaining through industry member fees. There are currently over thirty members, including all the leading global seed companies and a number of smaller seed companies, but also related companies such as Marrone Bio Innovations, law firms, and banks.
Member fees support monthly networking forums and student outreach programs. Monthly forums feature university and industry speakers on a wide variety of issues. For example, in November, the UC Davis World Food Center will moderate a discussion on regulation of new plant breeding techniques.
Members can join the research affiliates program, through which they can co-sponsor pre-competitive research or fund individual sponsored research agreements and projects specific to their respective interests. There are seven current consortia research projects at UC Davis.
Seed Central’s student outreach programs are designed to get talented individuals to view UC Davis as a great place for advanced degrees and the Seed Central region as a prime location for exciting careers. It sponsors poster competitions, internships, and field trips to area companies and dinners with executives. This month, for example, students will visit Morning Star Company’s tomato processing plant in Woodland.
However, Korn is concerned that the region is simply seen as unaffordable. “Long term, the single biggest obstacle to the success of Seed Central is the high cost of living in the area,” he said.
Korn notes that cooperation among the region’s elected leaders is key. “Seed Central is relying on their efforts,” he said.
Korn plans a detailed assessment of Seed Central’s impact on job creation in the region, including its success at attracting companies and promoting start-ups.
Over the last five years in the region:
- 10 companies have significantly expanded their existing facilities,
- 10 new companies have moved to the region to establish offices or research stations; and
- 10 seed or seed-related companies have been acquired in the region for a total of about $2 billion.
Leanna M Sweha, JD, has been a resident of Davis for 20 years. As a young molecular biologist in a USDA lab working to engineer Roundup-resistant corn, she grew interested in sustainable agriculture. Fascinated with the legal and policy issues of agricultural genetics, she became an attorney specializing in agricultural and natural resources law. She has worked for the California Resources Agency and the UC Davis Office of Research.