When vast landscapes are affected as severely as they were in Australia’s recent bushfires, there are locations where recovery requires more than what natural regeneration provides. In addition to managing threats such as pets and disease, native seed may be required.
But typically, you can’t just buy this native seed off the shelf.
Most of the native seed harvested in Australia is collected directly from the wild. When done sustainably, the collection process can take several years. Seed availability is dependent on climatic conditions, localised rainfall patterns, the availability of pollinators and the scale and availability of local remnant bushland to collect from.
Costs of Collection
Seed collection also requires knowledge of the local landscape, relationships with land holders, access for collection and often a collection licence. Project Phoenix will provide a high-level overview of the legislation that governs land access for native seed collection. Australia’s collectors are mostly small scale practitioners – sole traders, hobbyists and small businesses. Few agricultural-scale enterprises exist. All of these seed collection factors need to be resourced for a collector to be able to deliver the final product.
Low Market Value
The ANPC Seed Survey Report found general agreement among the sector that the true cost of seed is not being met by available funding. In addition to poor remuneration, there is inconsistent and unpredictable demand for native seed with low levels of Government investment in environmental restoration. These market conditions lead to uncertainty and constrain seed businesses from investing and developing.
Unfortunately, collectors often don’t receive enough forward warning of upcoming requirements. Without a pipeline of steady orders to prepare for, collectors must work reactively, to supply short term projects with significant amounts of seed to meet urgent orders. This can create unintended negative impacts to natural areas.
Can’t we just farm native seed?
It’s a good question. Industries like Aquaculture have successfully balanced fishing with farming to improve both the quality and supply of large-scale orders, while conserving wild populations.
Project Phoenix is examining Seed Production Areas from a national perspective to understand;
Regions like North America rely on ‘banks’ of seed reserves to help respond to bushfires or other disasters of scale. But they’re only able to do that with extensive funding, a robust market and transparent demand.
The regulatory system governing the native seed sector is complex. Project Phoenix will provide a high level overview of the national licencing and regulatory system that governs native seeds. Smarter regulations must consider practitioners of all sizes and incentivise people to collect or produce sustainably.
Seed science has come a long way in recent years although there is still so much we don’t know about Australia’s native plants. The native seeds sector faces challenges to accessing a range of other information (in addition to market information). This hinders decision-making by businesses, institutions and policy makers. Better coordination of and access to information across the sector is essential for the sector to mature.
For the Australian Seed Sector to grow, mature and become more professional, it needs to create a single voice for co-ordinated action. The diversity of the sector means that there are many groups that could lead its development. Yet each is focused on a specific area of the sector and there is no clear pathway for overall leadership.