Spring 2013 Newsletter
Farmers have been at the heart of Organic Seed Alliance’s work since our inception. We rely on farm experience, knowledge, and land to inform each component of our work to build organic seed systems -- from breeding to production to distribution. We believe the role of farmers in stewarding our seed must be promoted, protected, and propagated as vigorously as the conservation of seed itself.
Our Farmer Seed Stewardship initiative promotes farmers as seed innovators and recognizes this growing movement across the U.S. The initiative, which is a partnership with Seed Matters, is showcasing stories from the field to inspire a new direction for seed system development (see the Farmer Seed Stewardship stories in this issue).
We are building networks of seed stewards to enhance regional knowledge and shared expertise, ultimately improving access to high-quality, regionally adapted organic seed. By expanding education, we are helping more farmers save, breed, and produce seed for on-farm and commercial use.
But we’re just getting started.
We invite you to join our Farmer Seed Stewardship map if you are a farmer who produces, saves, or improves at least one seed variety on your farm for commercial production or on-farm use, or if you conduct on-farm research or variety trials. As a seed steward, you support the following statement and principles.
You don’t have to be a farmer to support seed stewardship. Each donation to our research, education, and advocacy is an investment in the quality and integrity of the food we eat, the health of our environment, and the foundation on which we all depend: seed. Contribute quickly and securely today.
Read on to learn more about what OSA has been up to this last quarter, including:
- Planning our 7th Organic Seed Growers Conference: Innovation in the Field (save the date!)
- Publishing a California Organic Variety Trial Report
- Co-hosting the 2013 Organicology conference
This spring, we hope you’ll take time to build your knowledge in organic seed, whether it’s learning how to save seed on your farm or in your garden, conducting organic seed variety trials, or asking your favorite seed distributor how the seed you purchase was produced.
Spring 2013 Newsletter Menu
Winter fields in Port Townsend, and the rest of the Pacific Northwest, generally offer little to eat. That may change with Organic Seed Alliance's variety trial and breeding work focused on winter season extension. We recently had the pleasure of evaluating (and tasting!) our winter sprouting broccoli project. The breeding goals are to produce a crop that reliably overwinters in the Pacific Northwest, and that has flavorful, consistent, four to five inch heads, born on highly productive shoots with tender stems. This project is a collaboration between Organically Grown Company (OGC) and OSA. OGC, the largest all-organic produce distributor in the Pacific Northwest, is investing in the project to expand access to regionally grown produce developed for organic farming systems.
Color, flavor, nutrition, top strength, vigor, shape, and smoothness are all qualities under consideration as we select carrot roots this month to replant for breeding populations as part of the Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture (CIOA)project. OSA senior breeder, Dr. John Navazio, recently returned from evaluating a wide diversity of breeding populations from around the world grown this winter in the warmth of El Centro, CA. In 2013 we will continue to evaluate promising carrot populations on organic and conventional farms in Washington, Wisconsin, Indiana, and California with the goal of identifying traits important in organic farming systems. In 2013 six promising populations including orange, purple, and red materials will be grown on organic farms in Washington as part of the OSA participatory plant breeding program.
Farmer participation is critical to the success of CIOA. We depend on feedback from farmers to prioritize our breeding and variety trial objectives. If you are a farmer and grow carrots of any color we'd appreciate hearing what varieties you currently grow and what quality traits are important to you. Please email Cathleen McCluskey to weigh in on our organic carrot trials with the following information: varieties you use, qualities of highest importance, your location, and your primary market (i.e. wholesale, farmers markets, other).
OSA recently released the 2012 California Organic Variety Trial Report. The report is the result of variety trials conducted in 2012 by OSA in Arcata and San Juan Bautista, California. Researchers evaluated close to 100 varieties, including varieties of broccoli, kale, Swiss chard, green beans, and Japanese cucumber. OSA’s 2012 California Organic Variety Trial Reportincludes detailed descriptions of trial locations, trial methods, trial result evaluations, and recommendations. The report, along with all other OSA publications, is available for free download on our publications page.
This January at EcoFarm, OSA hosted a second California Seed Stakeholders Meeting. Over two dozen seed producers, seed company representatives, university representatives, and seed buyers met to discuss how to improve seed systems in California. A few key issues were identified to work on:
- Information Sharing and Mentoring Many seed producer participants spoke to how the complexity of the seed industry, both in production and marketing, presents a challenge for producers who want to work in new crops or new markets. Seed producers are often geographically separated and have less of a chance to “talk shop." As a result of the discussion, OSA has launched the California Organic Seed Producers Forum, a listserve that allows seed producers to easily share, ask, and answer questions of one another. Please contact Jared Zystro for more information.
- Variety Information Sharing Many of the farmers present identified the need for information sharing tools for sharing variety performance results. Participants described a “Seed Wiki” where farmers could annotate varieties on-line with information. OSA is working on projects that fill this need. The first project is an addition to eOrganic’s Organic Variety Trial Database. The new system will allow farmers to include comments along with the existing information from formal trials.
- Fostering Direct Relationships A number of farmers at the meeting expressed a desire to directly interact with seed producers. They want to form relationships to share their needs with independent seed producers and potentially enter into custom seed production contracts. Following the stakeholders meeting, Steve Peters of Seed Revolution has been organizing farmer / seed purchaser groups in the Capay Valley and the San Juan Bautista / Hollister area to identify their needs and connect them with custom seed from organic seed producers.
The debate around canola production in Oregon’s Willamette Valley is not new. For years proponents have lobbied to remove planting restrictions to encourage canola production for biofuel. (See OSA’s statement from 2007.) The canola exclusion zones were put in place after substantial research and community dialogue. They protected the region’s unique growing conditions, which support myriad agricultural sectors, including many important vegetable seed and food crops.
In 2012 the controversy grew to a new level when the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) adopted a temporary rule that would allow canola production in areas where it was previously banned. The temporary rule was quickly terminated after the ODA was bombarded with protest from the food and farming community, in addition to a successful legal action that resulted in the Oregon Court of Appeals stepping in to stop it. But since that success, the ODA has adopted a final rule that expands canola production in the Willamette Valley and threatens to diminish an invaluable region for seed production.
While questions and issues are seemingly regional in scope, canola production in the Willamette Valley affects specialty seed production decisions – and potentially the diversity of seed options – across the U.S. as well as overseas.
Canola is a threat to the Willamette Valley’s thriving vegetable seed industry for two main reasons. Canola cross-pollinateswith other Brassicas like turnip and broccoli, impacting the genetic integrity of these relatives if they cross, and making the seed unmarketable. Furthermore, most canola is genetically engineered, posing challenges for farmers (especially organic) who need to avoid GE material in their seed crops. But even if most canola didn’t contain a GE trait, we would still be having this debate and there would still be as much opposition. Genetic integrity of seed crops is threatened when seed producers cannot avoid unwanted traits, GE or not, that impact the purity and thus marketability of their seed crop. For example, a seed lot will be rejected if more than three out-crossed seed per 1,000 seed are found.
Canola cross-pollinates via wind and pollinators (some traveling as far as five miles). Canola seed pods are also prone to shattering, and canola seed remains dormant in the soil for two or more years. Volunteer canola plants serve as vectors for pollen transfer, creating significant challenges for containment. One California study found thousands of volunteer plants (per hectare) that resulted from dormant canola seed planted four years prior.
Cross-pollination isn’t the only problem. Canola increases disease and pest pressures for seed and fresh vegetable producers. The concern is that canola will serve as reservoirs for important pests, such as the cabbage maggot. Another disease of great concern is white mold. Research points to the need to take a precautionary approach by not allowing canola in this region.
The Willamette Valley has an ideal climate for seed crop production, with mild winters and warm, dry summers. The other four areas with similar climates for commercial specialty seed production include parts of British Columbia, Chile, the Mediterranean, and Australia. Some countries with similar conditions to the Willamette Valley, like France, have allowed canola and consequently saw their seed production industry decline. Several countries now produce seed in the Willamette Valley. At a recent hearing at the Oregon state legislature on the topic, one Japanese seed company testified: "If canola production is allowed ... my company and other companies will immediately start looking for other places to produce our seed." Some specialty seed companies have threatened to pull all seed contracts from the Willamette Valley if canola is allowed.
In the Willamette Valley, this specialty seed industry is valued at $50 million (the canola industry is valued at $3 million). These small acres of specialty seed also represent a majority of the world’s Brassica seed production. The genus of Brassicas includes many vegetable crops important to our diet, including broccoli, radish, turnip, and rutabega. The genus also includes canola and mustards, as well as weed species. Brassica specialty seed crops are profitable to growers, even when acreage is small. A report commissioned by the ODA estimates that the Willamette Valley produces more than 90% of the European cabbage, Brussel sprouts, rutabega, and turnip seed, and 20 - 30% of radish, Chinese cabbage, and other Asian Brassica vegetable seed.
It’s clear that the consequences of sacrificing this region -- the last in the U.S. most appropriate for Brassica seed production -- greatly outweigh the benefits to the canola industry. Precautions are necessary to safeguard these unique growing conditions and the regional economy. Organic Seed Alliance is especially thankful for the good work of Friends of Family Farmers. They’ve been working tirelessly to reverse the ODA’s final rule to expand canola production in the Willamette Valley. Currently, they’re organizing around House Bill 2427 in the Oregon legislature, which would ban canola production in this region. (See OSA’sopinion piece in support of this bill.)
If you’re not an Oregonian, remember that the outcome of this decision may extend to your backyard garden or dinner plate – whether you live in Delaware or Denmark. If you haven’t been keeping tabs, get caught up by reading the timeline of events below and stay tuned through our Seed Broadcast blog, Facebook, and Twitter.
August 3, 2012: ODA published a temporary rule allowing canola production in areas previously protected in the Willamette Valley.
August 16, 2012: Thanks to good organizing by Friends of Family Farmers, and legal work by the Center for Food Safety, the Oregon Court of Appeals granted a stay to the temporary rule, meaning canola cannot be planted in previously protected areas until other rules are finalized.
September 28, 2012: ODA held a public hearing in Salem, Oregon, that attracted widespread opposition to the proposed permanent rule.
October 18, 2012: ODA extended the comment period to November 2nd, 2012, and convened a Canola Advisory Committee. (Friends of Family Farmers point out the committee was not tasked with reaching consensus.)
November 2, 2012: ODA closed the public comments on its proposed permanent rule.
January 23, 2013: ODA held a public hearing before closing the final rule comments on January 25, 2013.
February 7, 2013: ODA adopted a final rule that expands canola production by a maximum of 2,500 acres in an area where it was previously banned.
March 19, 2013: The Oregon state legislature’s Agriculture and Natural Resources committee held a public hearing on House Bill 2427, which aims to ban canola production in the Willamette Valley. The committee needs to vote by April 8, 2013, or the bill will die.
Join conference hosts Organic Seed Alliance, Oregon State University, Washington State University, and eOrganicJanuary 30 - February 1, 2014 in Corvallis, Oregon for the 7th Organic Seed Growers Conference: Innovation in the Field.
The biennial Organic Seed Growers Conference brings together hundreds of farmers, plant breeders, researchers, university extension, certifiers, food companies, seed production and distribution companies, and other organic stakeholders in two days of presentations, panel discussions, and networking events.
Call for Proposals We invite you to help shape the 7th Organic Seed Growers Conference: Innovation in the Field by providing proposals for content. This is your opportunity to share important research and ask timely questions related to organic seed. Please submit a proposal for presentations, posters, panels, and roundtable discussion by July 1, 2013. Send all proposals to Cathleen McCluskey.
Sponsorship Is your business or organization interested in becoming a conference sponsor? Contact Cathleen McCluskey for details.
Thank you to all who joined us at Organicology in February. The conference was an incredible success in bringing together a record turnout of over 800 participants representing diverse sectors of the organic community.
Organic Seed Alliance is a proud co-host of Organicology alongside Organically Grown Company, Oregon Tilth, and Sustainable Food Trade Association. Together, our organizations host this unique biennial conference to identify gaps and interdisciplinary solutions for growing the organic industry.
Watch for the 2015 Save the Date in the coming months. Stay up on the news at theOrganicology website.
Oregon Legislatures Should Vote 'Yes' on HB 2427 I grew up working and playing in the Oregon countryside next to fields of broccoli, corn, beets, and beans. Strawberry picking was my first job at age 12, as soon as I could get my social security card. I spent my high school years working in the canneries (I can still smell the beets). Later, while studying crops and...Read more
Farmer Seed Stewardship: Andrew Still and Sarah Kleeger
Farmer Seed Stewardship: Theresa and Dan Podoll Theresa and Dan Podoll stand out as pioneers of organic seed production in the Northern Plains. Though they describe themselves as “isolated” in their region, farming near Fullerton, North Dakota, they are intimately engaged in the national community of seed stewards through research collaborations and seed...Read more
The New York Times Look Carefully at Those Seeds Opinion piece by Margaret Roach about the importance of thinking where your seeds come from. "In our locavore-centric society, we increasingly ask where every bite of food came from. Since our food (or what our food was fed) comes from seeds, isn’t it time to ask where those all-important embryos, innocent or otherwise, come from, too?" Read article
Mother Earth News Hybrid Seeds vs. GMOs This piece defines the differences between hybrid and GMO vegetable varieties. "In a nutshell: Hybrids are the product of guided natural reproduction, while GMOs are the result of unnatural, high-tech methods used to create untested organisms that would never emerge in nature." Read article
Hobby Farms California Gets Organic Seed Boost An article exclusively focused on the regional seed work OSA is doing in California. "The Port Townsend, Wash.-based nonprofit Organic Seed Alliance is out to close the gap, working to develop organic seeds in California and increase their prevalence..." Read article