Sunday, March 11, 2012

Seed companies - a start

Hello all,

Here's a caution about being too fast with research, and with sending stuff to people over e-mail: fast research can be wrong, and people will post stuff on Facebook without checking with you. Be careful!

I want people to understand broad seed issues, and I believe that it is with accurate information that we make our best choices. So I'll start with this post.

The W. Atlee Burpee Seed company is like most large seed companies: it develops and sells some of its own seeds and also buys seeds from many producers to sell on. Burpee does not buy/sell GMO seeds, from anywhere, according to its owner/CEO George Ball in the article Burpee, GMO And Monsanto Rumors Put To Rest on the Burpee site

Burpee buys some of its seeds from Seminis, which has been Monsanto-owned since 2005.

It would be hard to not buy from Seminis (that will be another post ... but refer to the Rodale article Monsanto Buys Seminis in the references below. The numbers are probably even more so nowadays).

Sorting through the text of some articles to be time consuming; I've included part of one article in the resources list to illustrate this.

And there's a lot to say about seed monopolies and control of the food system. I'll be adding a couple more posts.

Everything I've read in the last 10 years since I started reading supports the importance of buying organically produced, non-GMO seeds from independently owned seed producers and suppliers, as locally as possible, from people you know and trust.

The rest of this post is a:

(1) short note about Burpee

(2) seed house genealogy

(3) resource list

BURPEE - a few pertinent bits

The current CEO of Burpee seeds, George Ball, is of a family that has owned seed companies since 1905.

George Ball's father and uncle purchased Petoseeds, a competitor of Burpee seeds, in 1968. Petoseeds and Burpee bought from each other (a common practice).

The Ball family (George Ball) purchased Burpee seeds in 1991.

In 1994, Seminis Seeds bought Petoseed. Burpee was then making some purchases from Seminis

In 2005 Monsanto bought Seminis. Burpee continued to buy some of its seeds from Seminis (now under Monsanto ownership)

As of 2012 (as far as I can tell) Burpee remains an independent seed company. Burpee is not owned by Monsanto. Burpee is buying seeds from Seminis, a Monsanto subsidiary. The seeds Burpee buys from Seminis are hybrid seeds, developed through selective breeding. Burpee does not buy genetically modified seeds, according to George Ball's article Burpee, GMO And Monsanto Rumors Put To Rest.

In that same article, George Ball states that "when Monsanto acquired Seminis, neither Burpee as a company nor I, George Ball as its owner, had any financial ownership or interest in either company."

Four Seed Company Histories - oh for a family tree chart to fill in!

W. Atlee Burpee company For its entire history, Burpee market focus has been for home gardeners, not agricultural use seed.

The W. Atlee Burpee Company was founded in 1876 by W. Atlee Burpee (1858 - 1915)
W. Atlee's son David took over the company in 1915 ... It was owned by members of the Burpee family until 1970.
1970 it was purchased by General Mills.
1977 it was purchased by
1991 the company was purchased by George Ball, who is the current owner and

(George Ball writes: "which I had bought, first with my family in the early 90s, and then from my family, in the late 90s." Saying George bought Burpee in 1991 may be a shortening of a long story.)

2012 George Ball is still owner and CAO of W. Atlee Burpee Seed Company

Petoseed Company

Founded in early 1950s by Howard Peto, former employee of Burpee - Petoseed develops and sells seeds for both home gardeners and for agriculture scale

Early 1960s, Petoseed takes on another former Burpee employee, Paul Thomas, as partner

1968 - G. Victor Ball and G. Carl Ball bought Petoseed in 1968, retaining name

1994 - Seminis buys Peto Seeds

(Maureen Elilzabeth did not find just when the Petoseed name went out of use)

Ball Seed Company now Ball Horticultural ( )

Ball Seed Company founded in 1905

G. Victor Ball and G. Carl Ball bought Peto Seed in 1968 (G. Victor is uncle and G. Carl is father of the current Burpee owner, George Ball)

George Ball buys W. Atlee Burpee seeds in 1991.

Anna Ball, sister of George Ball, is owner of the Ball Horticultural which is the current name of Ball Seed Company

Seminis Company

(started by?) Alfonso Romo Garza and bought by Monsanto 2005

1994 (Mexican businessman) Alfonso Romo Garza's company, Seminis, bought several "free-standing companies" including a small watermelon breeding company in Texas, the large corn breeder, Asgrow, of Kalamazoo MI and Petoseed (owned by G. Victor Ball and G. Carl Ball since 1968)

early 2000s - Seminis "divested" non-Mexican seed holdings to one, then another investment bank

(he'd been buying too much too fast - see Rodale article Monsanto Buys Seminis)

2005 - Garza sells Seminis to Monsanto (and stays on as CEO of Seminis)


The Legacy of W. Atlee Burpee

- an interesting view of how one company's development mirrors the interests of the culture and country it is part of

Burpee, GMO And Monsanto Rumors Put To Rest

Maureen Elilzabeth's note: The pertinent part of this article is here. The article is on the Burpee Seed Company site, written by Burpee's current owner George Ball.

However, the past that some folks are extremely focused upon has to do with my father’s desire to sell Petoseed, with his brother’s (my uncle’s) approval, as well as that of many relatives such as a brother, sister, aunts and cousins, to an entrepreneur from Mexico named Alfonso Romo Garza. Mr. Romo, as he is called, began in baked goods and then branched out into packaging, cigarettes, beer and insurance. He even founded a business school in Monterey in the late 90s modeled on Wharton—all before reaching the age of 40. He was, and remains, an impressive entrepreneur who, at that time, wanted to diversify from cookies, crackers, beer, tobacco, et al, into vegetables, fruits and grain. He was profiled on page 1 of the Wall Street Journal shortly before the mid 1990s transaction (about ’94-’95). His vision was to help the burgeoning population of small and medium sized farmers primarily in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America.

Nevertheless, throughout these changes of ownership, Petoseed was always the same—an extremely well-run company, composed of many ex-Burpee breeders and executives, and headquartered in
Ventura County in Southern California. It remains so to this day.

In 1994 I was asked by my father, the late G. Carl Ball, to assist in part of the transition by serving on the board with him of the new Mexican company—Seminis—composed of Petoseed and several other free-standing companies Mr. Romo bought, from a small watermelon breeding company in Texas to the large corn breeder, Asgrow, of Kalamazoo, Michigan. I served about a year and then left to focus my energies on Burpee, which I had bought, first with my family in the early 90s, and then from my family, in the late 90s. Naturally, as the president of Burpee, I continued to produce seed, as I have done my entire career, but also bought from any company that could do better than I, including my old friends—and former colleagues—at Petoseed, now called Seminis. (This is the core of my business philosophy: sell only the best.)

In the early 2000s Mr. Romo decided to divest himself of all his non-Mexican seed holdings for reasons of his own, and sold Seminis to first one investment bank, which then sold it to another investment bank, which then sold it to Monsanto in the mid 2000s, about ’04 or ’05.

This sale took place long after Peto Seed began in the mid 1950s by an ex-Burpee tomato breeder, some of whose tomatoes are still loved by home gardeners nationwide, such as Paul Thomas’ ‘Better Boy’. The list of companies that buy from the garden seed department of Seminis, now a very tiny business activity of Monsanto, is long and includes most of the high quality seed sellers, as well as Burpee. We at Burpee never reject serving our customers the best quality home garden vegetable varieties we can either grow or find, and some of the latter include varieties from Seminis. All are still tested at Fordhook Farm in

Finally, it is extremely important to note that when Monsanto acquired Seminis, neither Burpee as a company nor I, George Ball as its owner, had any financial ownership or interest in either company. It was that way when Monsanto purchased Seminis and remains that way today. Burpee continues as a privately owned company and, as I wish to emphasize, along with other leaders in the home gardening industry, we seek out suitable seeds from Seminis and other companies that adhere to the rigid guidelines we maintain and require of all our suppliers to you our valued home garden and small farmer customers. If we cannot breed and produce the seeds or plants ourselves, we find those that can.

blog post by Mr. Brown Thumb (Ramon Gonzalez) - this is the post referred to in part of George Ball's article Burpee, GMO And Monsanto Rumors Put To Rest

The Legacy of W. Atlee Burpee

As Geneticists Develop An Appetite for Greens, Mr. Romo Flourishes

Wall Street Journal, By Jonathan Friedland and Scott Kilman, January 28, 1999

The shift from public to private seed systems
A brief history of the development of the seed industry in the United States Rodale Institute website, By Matthew Dillon Posted February 22, 2005

Monsanto buys Seminis
The biggest player in biotech is now the largest seed company in the world following a purchase worth a cool billion. Rodale Institute website By Matthew Dillon (article first appeared in the March/April 2005 issue of Organic Broadcaster)

The Politically Correct Tomato Sandwich. George Ball, on Burpee news section, Dec. 2011

"Hybrid Veggies are the Cream of the Crop." this article is slightly different and original version of George Ball's Politically Correct Tomato Sandwich article published in the Philadelphia Inquirer

Seminis main website:

About Seminis page: If You've Eaten a Salad You've Eaten a Seminis Product

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