Autumn 2014 Newsletter
OSA recently bid farewell to staff member and friend Dr. John Navazio, who is re-locating cross-country to work as a plant breeder for Johnny's Selected Seeds. After serving more than ten years as our senior scientist, we're sad to see him go, but excited for the opportunity before him.
We can't thank John enough for his years of service to OSA. As a visionary co-founder of the organization, he helped establish organic plant breeding as a professional field and philosophy. His expertise and leadership shaped our organization's research and education programs, which in turn have supported the expansion of the industry he now enters. We couldn't be prouder of his accomplishments.
Thankfully John's departure comes at a time when our research team is growing, which includes three additional staff members with plant breeding and seed research expertise. Our plant breeding program is expanding with breeding work on the ground through research partnerships with seven universities and dozens of farmers across the country. In 2015 our first public variety release, 'Who Gets Kissed?' sweet corn, will become commercially available through High Mowing Organic Seeds. Our second release, 'Abundant Bloomsdale' spinach is currently being offered to seed companies for trial.
Beyond our field research, we're busy surveying farmers about their seed needs, perspectives, and experiences. If you are a certified organic crop producer, we need to hear from you! Please take our national seed survey today. Findings will be included in our next State of Organic Seed report, which will include recommendations for improving access to seed that is optimal for U.S. organic agriculture. The report will be released at the 8th Organic Seed Growers Conference to be held February 4-6, 2016 in Corvallis, Oregon -- save the date! We'll be sharing preliminary survey results and gathering additional input from the organic community at a number of listening sessions at organic agriculture conferences this winter.
Lastly, this August OSA staff left the Student Organic Seed Symposium inspired by the intelligence and enthusiasm of the next generation of organic plant breeders. Saying goodbye to an old friend and mentor the same month as meeting so many new graduate students breeding and publishing their research in the organic field reminded me we are all stewards of not only the seed, but the seed knowledge.
Thank you, John, for passing the knowledge forward and sharing your passion for seed with us all.
P.S. You can support Organic Seed Alliance with a purchase of a trendy Pura Vida bracelet (pictured right)! Get yours today from the Pura Vida website. And this is just the beginning! Mark your calendars for the week of September 29th for an upcoming week-long special OSA t-shirt sale that benefits our work.
If you are a certified organic crop producer and we have yet to hear from you, please take our 2014 organic producers seed survey today. Your participation is essential to this national assessment. Even if you do not currently use organic seed, we encourage you to take the survey.
This national survey is conducted every five years to monitor organic seed availability and use, challenges in sourcing organic seed, and organic plant breeding needs, among other important topics. The data collected will inform the organic community's understanding of the barriers and opportunities in building the availability, quality, and integrity of organic seed.
Findings from this survey will be included in an updated version of our State of Organic Seed report (first published in 2011). The report will be made public with detailed recommendations for improving access to seed that is optimal for U.S. organic agriculture. We'll also be sharing preliminary results from the survey at a series of listening sessions held in conjunction with organic agricultural conferences this winter. Check ourevents page for these and other upcoming gatherings.
The deadline for responding to the survey is December 3, 2014.
Take the survey here.
OSA's organic wheat trials are coming to a close for the year in California. This month we harvested the commercial trial in Upper Lake, which included many spring wheat varieties. We're also hosting a wheat field tour this Friday. See the events section below for details.
This year we began working with Northern California organic farmer Blake Richards of Wild Rose Farm to improve his diverse quinoa variety. Quinoa is an important and emerging crop, with relatively little breeding yet done for U.S. organic farmers outside of a handful of dedicated farmers and researchers. We recently harvested seed from over sixty excellent quinoa single plant selections from Blake's 16-acre quinoa field. Next year we will plant plots from each of these plants in a trial to refine Blake's stock seed.
This month we are harvesting onion and red peppers from our variety trials with Phil Foster of Pinnacle Organic Produce. Our trial is set to find onions that yield well in Phil's organic system, and have good flavor, resistance to pink root, and excellent storing ability. We are evaluating Italian-type red peppers for their yield, leaf canopy, disease resistance, flavor, and wall thickness. We will also be working with San Francisco Bay Area chefs to find onion and pepper varieties with excellent culinary qualities.
We have also finished a green lettuce trial with Mountain Bounty Farm in Nevada City. Our trials found a few great tasting varieties that were slow to bolt in the heat of summer in the Sierra foothills. Results from this and our other California trials will be available in the 2013-2014 California Variety Trial Report to be published later in the year.
There are many California events coming up, including workshops on organic seed production, plant breeding, and variety trials. See the events section below for details.
The first southeast U.S. organic cucurbit variety trails and field day occurred this summer as part of the Organic Cucurbit Research Project being led by Cornell University and supported by OSA, North Carolina State University, and Auburn University. Farmers participating in the project are building experience and knowledge in conducting their own variety trials and have established a network for ongoing collaboration. These momentous events represent the development of a strong southeastern organic seed system foundation.
The Organic Cucurbit Research Project includes organic melon, squash, and cucumber variety trials to support future breeding work by developing varieties resistance to Downy Mildew, Striped Cucumber Beetles, and viruses. This year OSA participated in trials on six farms throughout North Carolina and co-hosted a field day at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville, NC to share initial results of the trials. The weather wasn't too cooperative for a field day, but the trial could not have been planned better. The crops were at the ideal stage for trail evaluations and there were ripe melons for our taste test. This project is funded through a grant from the USDA Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) and will go through the next two years.
We've recently harvested our first production of stock seed for our spinach variety, 'Abundant Bloomsdale'. 'Abundant Bloomsdale' is an open-pollinated deeply savoyed (crinkled leaves) dark green spinach with a vigorous, upright growth habit and excellent flavor. The dark green color means 'Abundant Bloomsdale' is high in carotenoids like lutein and beta-carotene, which are very effective phyto-nutrients that promote good health. We are currently offering 'Abundant Bloomsdale' seed to a number of seed companies across the country for trialing and expect it to be commercially available by 2016. OSA is excited about this high-quality spinach variety that has been farmer-bred by many hands and a multitude of collaborating farms over 10 years here on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.
Dairy farming is an integral part of agriculture on the North Coast of California. The climate and the soils of North Coast deltas, river valleys, and flood plains allow dairy farmers to graze cows on excellent pasture for most of the year. However, some supplemental feed is required, including grain, hay, and silage. Silage corn is corn grown to near maturity, then harvested as a whole plant, chopped, and fermented (ensiled) to increase its digestibility.
Although silage corn is just a small part of the diet of these dairy cows, it is nonetheless an important crop. North Coast area silage producers face a couple of challenges. The first challenge is that the area is drastically different from the major corn producing areas. When OSA's Jared Zystro shared the local temperatures with a corn breeder in the Midwest, she thought there was a typo. There are few varieties able to mature in the area because of the cool summers. The second challenge is that the major corn breeding companies focus on releasing varieties with genetically engineered (GE) traits. Because of this, some local farmers feel that if they want access to the newest and best silage corn varieties, they need to use GE corn.
If Measure P passes this fall, growers will not be allowed to grow GE varieties in Humbolt county. In response, OSA has received requests to conduct an extensive trial to see if there are other varieties that could be comparable to those currently only available with GE traits.
To provide coastal dairy farmers with better information about silage corn variety choices, OSA is conducting a silage corn trial in 2014. This is a rigorous, replicated trial of 10 promising non-GE silage corns. We will be looking at yield, maturity, and silage quality. We are co-hosting a field day with Warren Creek Farms in Arcata, CA on Wednesday, September 17, 2014, from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., and will produce a report later this year. The project is supported by University of California Cooperative Extension-Humboldt, California Certified Organic Farmers, Columbia Foundation, and Gaia Fund.
In mid-August OSA's Micaela Colley and Laurie McKenzie joined our Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture (CIOA) research partners from University of Wisconsin-Madison and Washington State University to harvest and evaluate carrots from the project at the Mercer Canyon Ranch in Kennewick, WA.
The trial included a diverse collection of colored carrots trialed in both organic and conventional plots. All of the carrots are being evaluated for nutritional and flavor components at the University of Wisconsin-Madison under the direction of CIOA project leader Dr. Phil Simon.
Following the harvest, the research team hosted a well-attended field day at the WSU Extension field station in Pasco, WA. OSA and Dr. Simon presented the CIOA project to the group of farmers and seed industry representatives at the field day. Participants also taste-tested a sampling of CIOA carrots. Interesting and useful dialogue about the differences between carrot types, colors, and uses was spurred as everyone gathered around the tasting table.
OSA's Micaela Colley and Jared Zystro left the Student Organic Seed Symposium in awe of the next generation of organic researchers and inspired by the path forward carved by national and international leaders in organic plant breeding systems. The student-run gathering of graduate students, university and public plant breeders, organic seed advocates, and seed industry is a powerful networking and training for the organic plant breeders and seed professionals of tomorrow.
The four-day symposium provides students with a strong community of like-minded researchers creating models of breeding for the environment, healthy communities, and regional resiliency in agriculture - "systems breeding" as scientist and symposium speaker Edith Lammerts van Beuren of Wagenigen University and the Louis Bolk Center coined it. She challenged participants to remember the "why" of organic agriculture and consider applying the ethical principles that founded the organic movement to our models of plant breeding.
Students from across the country, including Puerto Rico, proudly shared stories of their work while observing plots of their breeding populations in the field at the Cornell research farm. Common food crops including barley, carrots, corn, and squash were grown side by side with cotton, hibiscus, and a Hawaiian malva commonly called slippery greens, just to name a few. The scope of crops being developed in and for organic systems is clearly expanding including cotton, corn, and watermelon from breeders from the Southern U.S.
After four days of stories and field tours, including Bejo Seeds, Cornell, the National Plant Germplasm Center at Geneva, Freeville Organic Farm, Kingbird Farm, Ground Flour, Remembrance Farm, and Fruition Seeds, participants left with ideas and plans intermingled into a web of community, food, and organic futures.
Over 100 farmers have joined our Farmer Seed Stewardship initiative, a partnership between Organic Seed Alliance and Seed Matters, that advances education, research, and advocacy to support farmers' ability to save, breed, and produce seed for on-farm and commercial use. The Farmer Seed Stewardship initiative involves a network of farmers who identify themselves as seed stewards. These farmers recognize seed as an invaluable natural resource and their role as stewards of seed and seed knowledge.
We invite farmers working with seed to join the network and help us pay tribute to - and track through the Farmer Seed Stewardship map! - the growing seed stewardship movement. Farmers who join the network will be pinned on our map and receive a complimentary seed publication. They will also lend an important voice to seed policy initiatives and be linked into other seed producer networking opportunities, including invitations to regional events.
Mark your 2016 calendar for the 8th Organic Seed Growers Conference to be held February 4 - 6, 2016 in Corvallis, Oregon. We'll be sending timely news about the conference in the coming year.
What is it all about? See what our participants' have to say about this one-of-a-kind gathering on our new video (see below).
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.
Join us for this unique opportunity to trade knowledge, techniques, and ideas that strengthen our organic seed community - it's the only event of its kind! We'll see you there next winter!
National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service Organic Producers Survey Underway "Organic Seed Alliance has announced the distribution of its 2014 organic producer seed survey. This national survey is conducted every five years to monitor organic seed availability and use, challenges in sourcing organic seed, and organic plant breeding needs, among other important topics. Findings from..." read full article.
Mother Earth News Downy Mildew Variety Trials at Twin Oaks Seed Farm "Seed harvest season is starting. Today was our first 2014 harvest of tomatoes and watermelon for seed. Things will start slowly, and by about the second week of August we will be swamped with tomatoes, muskmelons, watermelons and cucumbers. I've been growing seeds at Twin Oaks for six years now, and have a..." read full article.
NC Alternative Crops and Organics Organic Cucurbit Variety Trial and Seed Saving Field Day "An organic variety trial of melons, squash and cucumbers is being conducted in cooperation with researchers in NY, NC, and AL. The trial was developed to study variety resistance to Downy Mildew, Striped Cucumber Beetles and viruses and will provide information and germplasm for the breeding of..." read full article.
From the Field: Carrot, Spinach, and Onion Seed Last month we shared some notes from our carrot breeding work happening at Midori Farm as part of the collaborative Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture (CIOA) project. This week we noticed some differences in plant health and suspect we're seeing some varying levels of resistance to Xanthomonas (a bacteria that causes black leaf spot)...read more.
Upcoming Organic Silage Corn Variety Trial Field Day Join Organic Seed Alliance and Warren Creek Farms at a variety trial field day to share results from the 2014 local organic silage corn variety trials. The field day will be held on September 17, 2014 at Warren Creek Farms in Arcata, CA. Field day participants can expect to learn about the goals and methods of the trial, how to conduct their own on-farm...read more.
Wheat Harvest Field Day | September 12, 2014 | Shively, California Join Organic Seed Alliance's Jared Zystro for this harvest field day from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at the College of the Redwoods Farm in Shively, CA. Participants will tour our wheat nursery that includes plots of over 100 varieties of wheat, emmer, einkorn, spelt, and other grains. Contact Jared Zystro with any questions.
Jefferson County Farm Tour | September 14, 2014 | Jefferson County, Washington Save the date to join OSA and other Olympic Peninsula agriculture organizations at the 12th annual Jefferson County Farm Tour. Learn more
Organic Silage Variety Trial Tour | September 17, 2014 | Arcata, California Join Organic Seed Alliance's Jared Zystro for a tour of our organic silage variety trials at Warren Creek Farms in Arcata, California from 2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. Participants will learn about the goals and methods of the trial, see the varieties, and learn how to conduct their own variety trials. Learn more
Hoes Down Harvest Festival | October 4 - 5, 2014 | Yolo County, California Join Organic Seed Alliance's Jared Zystro at this year's Hoes Down Harvest Festival to be held at Full Belly Farm in California. Weekend events include hands-on workshops, live music, food, crafts, silent auction, and a wellness tent. Learn more
Seed Harvest Techniques and Equipment Workshop | October 6, 2014 | Greenbank, Washington Join Organic Seed Alliance's Micaela Colley and Laurie McKenzie at this workshop on bringing in your seed harvest from threshing to final cleaning. The workshop will be held at Greenbank Farm from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and cost $5 per person. Pre-registration is required. Register and learn more
Fundamentals of Seed Production and Variety Improvement | October 18, 2014 | Gilroy, California Join OSA's Jared Zystro for this daylong course to be held near Gilroy, CA. Participants will learn fundamental skills for developing and adapting varieties to their organic farm and tour OSA pepper trials in the field. Topics of instruction include: the biology of seed production, seed harvesting and cleaning, choosing appropriate seed crops for your system and climate, maintaining the genetic integrity of varieties with appropriate population sizes and isolation distances, conducting variety trials, and basic on-farm breeding techniques. Details TBD
Carolina Farm Stewardship Association | November 10 - 12, 2014 | Greenville, South Carolina Join Organic Seed Alliance for a State of Organic Seed Listening Session and other organic seed workshops at this year's Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. Learn more
NOFA-NY Winter Conference | January 23 - 25, 2015 | Saratoga Springs, New York Join Organic Seed Alliance for a State of Organic Seed Listening Session and other organic seed workshops at this year's NOFA-NY Winter Conference. Learn more
Georgia Organics Conference | February 20 - 21, 2015 | Athens, Georgia Join Organic Seed Alliance for a State of Organic Seed Listening Session and other organic seed workshops at this year's Georgia Organics Conference. Learn more
Organicology | February 5 - 7, 2015 | Portland, Oregon Organic Seed Alliance is a proud co-sponsor of Organicology. While most sustainable ag events design content with specific audiences in mind and with an intent to provide those audiences with opportunities to broaden and deepen skills bases, Organicology seeks to bring all of the stakeholder groups to the table to not only develop skills in their own areas of activity but to gain exposure to the challenges and accomplishments of those in other areas of the trade and movement. Learn more
Organic Agriculture Research Symposium | February 25 - 26, 2015 | LaCrosse, Wisconsin Join Organic Seed Alliance's research team at the innagural Organic Agriculture Research Symposium in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. The syposium aims to provide current information to farmers, ranchers, extension, and other agricultural professionals, educators, and others interested in organic agriculture. Learn more
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“OSA is a convener, partner, and leader in creating the alternative -- a regionally based seed system by us and for us. Collaboration in their spinach breeding work has given me hands-on experience through which I've gained both skills and confidence as a seed grower.”
Common Ground Farm