- Associated Press - Monday, March 3, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) - Recent estimates show that spending by the seed research and development industry went down over the last two years but it remains Hawaii’s top crop.

Estimates by the National Agricultural Statistics Service show a 10 percent drop in spending by seed companies during the 2012-13 season. In the season that ended in June, the value of seed company spending statewide was at $213 million. In the 2011-12 season, that figure was at $238 million.

The drop was the second consecutive annual reduction after a less than 1 percent dip from the 2010-11 season record of $239 million - the seed industry’s first decline in more than two decades, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser (http://ow.ly/ubMdD) reported Monday.

The seed industry, which in Hawaii involves experimenting with plant traits for mass reproduction on the mainland, has attracted criticism as the debate over genetically modified organisms continues to intensify. Many in the agricultural industry support seed research because it can enhance crop viability.

Because seed companies don’t sell the seeds they produce in Hawaii, the Statistics Service uses the cost of production to represent industry value.

Since 2006 the value of the seed industry has topped any crop in Hawaii. The No. 2 crop in Hawaii tends to be sugar cane, generating about $70 million or $80 million in annual sales.

Hawaii Crop Improvement Association President Mark Phillipson said reduced spending doesn’t necessarily mean scaled-back operations. He said it could be from operational efficiencies or changes in product lines being pursued.

“One year doesn’t make a trend,” he said. “Next year could see (spending) go up 10 percent.”

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Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, http://www.staradvertiser.com