Commentary: The Challenge of the Seed Exchange
Herman C. (Bud) Gehnrich, Eastern Vice President
Huntington, New York
In reviewing the programs of the ARS and how they are serving the membership, I realized how many changes have taken place in the Seed Exchange in recent years. Since it is one of the most important programs that the ARS has, ranking right up there with the Journal and the Registration of Plant Names, I feel that it would be well to record some observations.
The method that the present chairman, George Woodard, introduced (actually suggested by the former chairwoman, Linda Wylie) permitting the selection of alternates for each of the first 10 lots ordered, permits members a greater latitude in ordering and a much better opportunity for getting the seed lots of particular species or crosses.
This system does have a down side since it makes it impossible to scan the orders electronically, which would speed up the process and permit analysis of frequency of ordering certain lots, etc. We will have to decide which of these alternatives are more important or, if a way can be found, how to accommodate both.
George has also reached out to a new group of hybridizers who are supplying seed of crosses that are more significant and that will undoubtedly excite the interest of growers. One of the complaints that I have heard for years is that many of the crosses submitted were pedestrian and certainly not worth the effort of growing on. While there will always be seed submitted that some do not think worthwhile (but others will be happy to try) the effort to stimulate the submission of seed that brings us to a new level must be recognized.
George also eliminated the classification of open pollinated hybrid seed, which can only be looked on as a plus for the entire undertaking. It has eliminated much time on the part of those who work on the Seed Exchange and also saved many growers from wasting their time growing plants that will never amount to anything.
He has also made a strong effort to obtain species seed, from the Rhododendron Species Foundation as well as from individuals, both from gardens and from plant expeditions. This effort is starting to pay dividends, and more seed and a more varied selection will be the result.
One great problem with the Seed Exchange is the shortage of species seed, which is in great demand, particularly from our overseas members. Since they do not get the lots they order because they are in short supply, some believe that members in the United States get preference in having their orders filled. Having worked on this with other volunteers from the New York Chapter, I can assure everyone that this is not the case. Of course, contributors get first choice of lots, and they, being as smart as everyone else, order the most desirable seed. Since that is in short supply there is not enough for everyone else. The answer is a greater supply. George recognizes this and is working to get more of the choice material such as proteoides and pachysanthum, but it is not easy.
One failing has been the lack of communication between the Seed Exchange and the buyers and in some cases the suppliers of the seed. George is working on this and is planning to have some of the correspondence handled by others. Some letters only George can respond to. Some that call for an answer saying that the Seed Exchange can't help because that information is not available, or that the Seed Exchange just doesn't know the answer, can be done by others. This is the main problem and the one that is seen as having validity. It must be solved and it will be.
Finally, I don't think people have a clue as to how big a job this is and the amount of time that must be devoted to it. Some seed comes in uncleaned, some comes in late, and some have indecipherable descriptions. Some orders are similarly indecipherable and don't follow the format that has been developed, and some people are unreasonable in their expectations of what will be done for them. These things are, of course, all a part of the job, but they do make for frustration.
George recognizes the importance of this undertaking and plans to work to keep the program a first rate one. He is ready to listen to all constructive ideas that may be advanced to make the Seed Exchange better, and he will respond to them.