Last post, I wrote about how Tourne-Sol started offering seeds to other seed companies, and how tomatoes were the crop they bought. But my seed story didn’t start with tomato seeds; it began with the first couple pounds of arugula seed I harvested (you can read that story here). This arugula seed started a relationship with brassica seeds that kind of got out of hand. The ensuing surplus of seed created another way we developed our relationship with our seed company clients.
GROWING TOO MUCH SEED FOR OUR OWN SALAD GREENS
Tourne-Sol grows a lot of salad greens for market and CSA, and these salad greens consume a large amount of seed. From a coulpe dozen brassica plants we were able to meet all our Tatsoi seed. A few dozen more placed elsewhere on the farm, and we had all the Mizuna seed we needed. The same with a half dozen other varieties of brassica greens.
Simultaneous to this I was reading up about plant popuplations, cross pollinators and maintaining genetic breadth and resilience (I posted a bit about that here). This led to growing more plants of each variety, which then led to harvesting more seed. To be honest, another reason I wanted to grow larger volumes of seed was to be able to run my fingers through bucketfuls.
As quantities increased, I moved to growing brassica on a 3-year rotation since the seed kept so well and I wanted to avoid cross pollination. But when I started to harvest 5-7 pounds of seed per variety, there was more seed than we could use up in three years. I needed to do something.
So I called up the seed companies who already bought our seeds and asked whether they were interested in brassica seeds? A couple said yes. Then they asked how much I was selling it for.
PRICING OUT SEEDS
Until then, the seed companies I had dealt with had set their own rates for seed. I wasn’t sure what to charge. I asked them what they thought was fair ? One person mentioned they’d bought some brassica seed for $20/ounce. That gave me a starting point.
After I hung up, I took out a pen and paper and crunched some numbers starting with what weight I’d harvested from what growing area. Then, I looked at all the seed catalogues in my collection and listed the different ways they priced bulk brassica green prices. I realized that $20/ounce was a great price but that with my seed yield, I could afford to ask for significanlty less. With a lower price, I figured I could sell more seed. I went back to my seed clients and offered them a range of prices with larger seed volumes at proportionally lower prices. ( Here is a detailed post on how we price seeds.)
GROWING SEEDS ON CONTRACT vs. SPECULATION
Essentially, the two ways Tourne-Sol sells seed to other seed companies is on contract and on speculation. To highlight the difference between these two options, let’s compare how we plan and sell tomato seed (contract) and brassica seed (speculation).
TOMATO SEEDS: In the spring, there is a flurry of e-mails back and forth with each company to whom I sell tomato seeds. We select tomato varieties together and determine what quantities they would like to reserve for the fall. I like to have a harvest target since tomato seed takes time to harvest, squish and ferment in large quantities. Since the bulk of our tomato seed is destined to seed companies, the number of tomato plants I grow for seed depends mainly on quantities these companies commit to purchasing.
BRASSICA SEEDS: Currently, I try to grow as much brassica seed as space permits in one year to use over the next 3 years.We use a lot of brassica seeds on farm and we do sell bulk salad green seeds through our own seed catalogue to farmers and gardeners. At present, I usually run out of brassica seed before the next production cycle comes around.As such, we don’t need a solid commitment from our seed company clients to determine what we will grow. Of course, every spring I do give them a heads up of what I am growing so they can plan accordingly. If they want to reserve some seed, I am happy to do that. However, if they want to wait until the fall to tell me what they need, that doesn’t drastically change our production goals.
THE MORAL OF THIS STORY
Now the moral of this story is not to grow out a large quantity of seed on speculation and then try to sell it. That’s a great recipe for a lot of seed in your closet. Rather, grow the seed that you use and experiment with larger quantities. When you feel comfortable, approach seed companies with what you know you can do and find out what they want. Don’t start off with too much ambition – growing a lot of great seed is not easy. Develop a relationship with the folks who buy your seed and gradually increase quantities as you gain proficiency.
My co-farmer Fred received a grand prize for Tourne-Sol farm from Quebec’s finançière agricole contest Tournez vous vers l’excellence. Click here to see the contest’s video profile on Fred and the farm (note – it is in French).
Next on Going to Seed, less words and more pictures.