Home Profiles Going Further Afield: 20/20 Seed Labs Celebrates 30 Years

Going Further Afield: 20/20 Seed Labs Celebrates 30 Years

Here’s how Sarah Foster grew the business

Photo by Rebecca Lippiatt

When is the last time you thought about a seed?

Seeds are small but incredibly significant, representing 90 per cent of the world’s global food supply. Without understanding, improving, analyzing and preserving our seed supply, our agriculture sector would collapse, and humanity along with it. For Sarah Foster, president and senior seed analyst at 20/20 Seed Labs Inc., tiny seeds are a big passion.

Foster launched 20/20 Seed Labs in 1989. It is Canada’s first fully accredited, independently owned seed testing laboratory.

“In 1989 the government that was offering seed testing services decided to privatize. I saw an opportunity to start my own company,” she explains. “I was very excited, but as any entrepreneur will tell you, the first year is full of worries. Things were different 30 years ago. To get the company name out there, I wrote lots of letters and drove around northern and southern Alberta to meet with clients and promote 20/20.”

As an outstanding businesswoman with an incredible work ethic, Foster’s hard work paid off. Today 20/20 Seed Labs completes tests for farmers around the world, thanks to being internationally accredited. The company is also proud to achieve recognition such as the Canadian Seed Trade Association award for Outstanding Achievement (2013), an award from the Alberta Seed Processors Association in 2018, and becoming a Leaders nominee in 2019.

“We are very much a part of the agricultural fabric,” Foster notes. “One of the reasons we have been so successful is that we always meet the needs of our clients. We are always very transparent about everything we do and have demonstrated that our protocols are followed in a standard manner and the results are meaningful. We have never had a complaint about a crop not performing the way our data shows. We are very, very invested in the success of our clients and work with them to make sure they get the best out of their crop.”

Part of 20/20’s mission is to envision the future of agriculture.

“We are always planning for what happens next year and the next five years with testing services available for things in terms of crop quality. It’s not only about climate change; we need to have seeds that are frost tolerant, disease tolerant, etc. Our laboratory must be able to test for specific crop diseases that are becoming more problematic in Canada.”
Foster has recently returned from a science and agriculture trade mission in Brazil, an experience she calls “fantastic.”

“I don’t know that I’ve ever been in a country where they are so focused on agriculture, from the breeding and the science to the seeding and production of food. I came back with a ton of ideas of what we can incorporate in Canada. The mission was to see if there was something Brazil and Canada could partner with. On the trip we met another Canadian company that had developed a system for early monitoring for diseases in the field. We ended up working with them.”

For Foster, educating clients and the public about where their food comes from is very important to dispel the misinformation that is prevalent in our society.

“There is a mistrust about where people’s food comes from,” she points out. “We have joined up with other organizations that promote agriculture and the benefits of good systems to prove that what you are eating in terms of where it starts is safe. People have put a lot of fear into the public about practices like GMO by saying they are dangerous and chemical laden, but that is not necessarily true. The food chain is a trail and we explain the trail that brings the food to you.”

Foster continues, “When clients come in for a tour, they are often surprised by what goes on behind the scenes and how much regulation and administration is involved in what we do.”
In addition to supporting agriculture on a global scale, 20/20 Seed Labs is involved in very important causes here at home. The lab is a big supporter of the Leduc & District Food Bank and is also active in a variety of farm safety programs.

It’s been 30 years since Foster created a private company that was the first of its kind in Canada, and she is very grateful to the people, staff, associations and organizations that have mentored her along the way.

“When I started, the late David Ingledew was working with Prairie Seeds. I was only 27 at the time, but he believed in my ability and my ideas were important to him. Rene Victoor, a seed grower in Villeneuve, Alberta was also a huge supporter. I would go crop scouting with him. He helped me get off the ground with real-time input. Rick Rutherford (Rutherford Farms Ltd.) from Grosse Isle, Manitoba is one of the most forward-thinking seed growers I know and one of the first to leverage the technology available to farmers. What he does helps us all to be ready for what will happen in agriculture over the next few years. As for our many clients, thank you for allowing us the opportunity to work with you and provide services that will benefit your farm and your business.”

Agriculture is one of the world’s oldest industries and companies like 20/20 Seed Labs stand between the changing landscape and our food supply. This is a post held by the lab for 30 years and as Foster is happy to inform, “We are still growing.”

Learn more about 20/20 Seed Labs at 2020seedlabs.ca online and @2020SeedLabs on Twitter.