2014 Annual Report
I'm excited to share our annual report with you today, which includes some of our most important successes in 2014. We are making tremendous progress in building regional seed systems, monitoring the state of organic seed at a national level, and, ultimately, protecting and expanding not just the diversity of seed available to farmers, but the knowledge necessary for stewarding seed now and into the future.
Below you'll read that our research is resulting in finished varieties that were bred under organic conditions and in partnership with organic farmers and public plant breeders. You'll also read about our education efforts this year, including the release of seven new publications and a record turnout at our Organic Seed Growers Conference. There's so much more to tell you, but I'll let you read it for yourself.
Thanks, as always, for your support -- whether that's helping us spread the word about our work or sending us a donation today.
Summer sweet corn. Is there anything better? How about an open-pollinated sweet corn variety developed in partnership with organic farmers and public plant breeders, one that demonstrates superior production and flavor traits compared to other OPs on the market? That's what you'll find in 'Who Gets Kissed?', the first in a series of organic sweet corn releases developed through participatory plant breeding, where farmers and formal breeders collaborate on farm-based breeding projects to improve agricultural crops. 'Who Gets Kissed?' was developed by Minnesota farmer Martin Diffley and breeders at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and OSA. The new variety is available for purchase through High Mowing Organic Seeds. Learn more here.
OSA's new spinach variety was bred by and for organic farmers. 'Abundant Bloomsdale' is named after the Abundant Life Farm where the breeding project originated. It is an open-pollinated, deeply savoyed (crinkled leaves), and dark green spinach with a vigorous, upright growth habit. The dark green color means the variety is high in carotenoids, like lutein and beta-carotene -- phytonutrients that promote good health. This spinach resulted from participatory plant breeding work with eight organic farms on the Olympic Peninsula over the course of ten years. Look for it this winter through Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, the Hudson Valley Seed Library, High Mowing Organic Seeds, and E&M Seeds. Learn more here.
Inspirational. Professional. Scientific. These are just a few of the words used by participants to describe our 7th Organic Seed Growers Conference held in Corvallis, Oregon, this past January. Thanks again to our generous sponsors as well as our co-hosts, Oregon State University, Washington State University, and eOrganic. This year's conference attracted the largest attendance yet, with 450 attending in person and an additional 400 joining through live streaming. More than 70 experts presented on organic seed topics, from plant breeding to enterprise development to policy. Exceptional keynotes were delivered by High Mowing Organic Seeds founder Tom Stearns and OSA co-founder Matthew Dillon, now with the Clif Bar Family Foundation's Seed Matters initiative. This year's conference theme -- Innovation in the Field -- recognized that some of the most impactful innovation starts in the hands of farmers, and expands through collaboration with public plant breeders, seed companies, organic food companies, students, and others who understand that organic seed is critical to the success of organic agriculture. If you missed the conference, here are links to the webinars and the conference proceedings, which include dozens of papers by leading researchers in the field. And, save the date! Our 8th Organic Seed Growers Conference will be February 4 - 6, 2016, in Corvallis, Oregon.
State of Organic Seed is an ongoing project that monitors the status of organic seed systems in the U.S. Our 2011 report provided the first comprehensive analysis of the barriers and opportunities in building the availability, quality, and integrity of organic seed. This year, OSA conducted another organic producer seed survey to provide for a five-year update on the data published in this first report. Certified organic crop producers representing 47 states responded to the survey. The survey assessed producers' attitudes and perceptions regarding organic seed, as well as their current use of organic seed and any obstacles that restrict organic seed sourcing. The survey also captures which crops and traits should be prioritized by organic plant breeding programs. Findings will be included in our nextState of Organic Seed report, to be released in February 2016. The report will include a comprehensive roadmap for improving access to seed that is optimal for organic agriculture.
OSA's research and education in the Pacific Northwest is establishing a regional seed system supported by diverse stakeholders -- from farmers to public plant breeders to chefs. This year we established the Northwest Variety Trial Network, which is comprised of seed companies, plant breeders, food companies, farmers, university extension agents, and non-profits working together to coordinate and collaborate on organic variety trials in the region. The results from these trials will be combined with flavor and culinary evaluations from chefs participating in the Culinary Breeding Network (CBN). Northwest farmers and food buyers have prioritized expanding production into the "off-season" (fall, winter, and spring). Chicory, onions, cabbage, and storage onions are four crops we are evaluating and improving for the winter growing season in partnership with Oregon State University and Washington State University. This season extension work is made possible through grants from USDA's Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, administered by the Oregon Department of Agriculture and Washington State Department of Agriculture. This project includes networking and tasting events to showcase these crops and facilitate market adoption among chefs and food buyers. In September we participated in a variety showcase hosted by CBN, where more than 100 chefs, plant breeders, seed producers, and others gathered to taste varieties and showcase vegetable varieties with traits of culinary and agronomic excellence for production in the region. At the event, our research team conducted a taste test of orange, purple, and yellow carrots from the Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture (CIOA) project and a wide range of storage onions prepared raw, roasted, and sautéed. We also hosted a variety tasting of cabbage and chicories with chefs and farmers at our Organic Seed Growers Conference in Corvallis, Oregon, and the Farmer-Fisher-Chef Connection in Seattle, Washington. In partnership with Greenbank Farm, we are supporting the expansion of seed production in the region through educational workshops, networking, and the Greenbank Farm seed equipment rental program.
The entire organic food chain depends on a grower's ability to access appropriate seed. Two forward thinking food businesses in the Northwest recognize this fact and are investing in OSA's breeding work to ensure local farmers have the seed they need. Organically Grown Company supports our purple sprouting broccoli breeding project, where we are developing a new variety that reliably overwinters in the region. The Port Townsend Food Co-op is also investing in our work to breed a short-season, open-pollinated sweet corn that will produce reliably in the mild maritime climate of the Olympic Peninsula. We applaud these companies for investing in breeding that supports the expansion of regional food production. If you are a business interested in supporting a breeding project, contact Micaela Colley.
Our regional network of seed stewards in California is strong and growing. This year we expanded our California organic seed grower listserve to include more members and more discussion to support organic seed production in the state. We provided 17 lectures, workshops, and field days across the state, resulting in more than 900 people gaining skills in seed saving, seed production, variety trials, and on-farm plant breeding. We also expanded our organic variety trial network, partnering with eight farms to evaluate more than 250 varieties of beets, carrots, kale, lettuce, onions, peppers, rutabaga, spinach, and wheat (results will be published in early 2015). OSA conducted the first organic silage corn variety trial in Northern California to help organic dairy farmers identify which organic and other non-GMO silage corn varieties perform best in their climate and under organic conditions. And we are working with organic farmers in the state to develop new, organically bred varieties of sweet corn, wheat, quinoa, and carrots. This winter we'll continue to foster this network by hosting the first-ever California Organic Seed Summit. The event will provide an important forum for organic seed producers and seed companies to learn from each other and develop long-term strategies and collective actions to build California's organic seed system. Our work in California would not be possible without the generous support of Columbia Foundation, Gaia Fund, USDA's Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), the California Wheat Commission, California Certified Organic Farmers, Organic Valley, Seed Matters, and the North Coast Co-op.
OSA is partnering with organizations and universities in the Southeast to build a regional seed system that is responsive to the needs of organic growers. This involves working collaboratively to identify plant-breeding needs, conduct organic variety trials, and educate growers in seed saving, plant breeding, and organic seed production. In 2014, OSA continued to lead the Southeast Organic Seed Working Group, and participated in regional research and education. As one example, the Eastern Sustainable Organic Cucurbit Project, led by Cornell University and funded by USDA's Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), allowed Cornell, North Carolina State University, Auburn University, and OSA to conduct variety trials on melons, squash, and cucumbers in North Carolina, New York, and Alabama. The trials will inform future breeding work to develop varieties resistant to downy mildew, striped cucumber beetles, and viruses that are a challenge for organic growers. OSA co-hosted a field day at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville, North Carolina, in August to share initial results from state trials. We were also awarded a planning grant through USDA-OREI to develop a project proposal for increasing the availability of appropriate, high-quality organic seed in the region. In addition to the universities mentioned above, we'd like to thank our following partners in the region: Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, Georgia Organics, and the Rural Advancement Foundation International.
This year marked the third annual cycle of the Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture (CIOA) project. OSA is a key partner in this participatory plant breeding work, which includes four universities and USDA's Agriculture Research Service (ARS). In 2014, we continued to participate in replicated trials of a wide diversity of carrot varieties both on organic and conventional research farms in Washington, Wisconsin, Idaho, and California. Trial evaluations focus on traits prioritized by organic farmers, including seedling vigor, canopy fullness, flavor, nutrition, nematode resistance, and disease resistance, among other agronomic qualities. Variety performance has varied widely, but has generally been consistent across farming systems in a given region and year. This year was the first of two years of weed competitiveness trials that looked at the rate of canopy development and yield in paired weeded and non-weeded plots to assess the ability of varieties to outcompete weeds and yield well under weedy conditions. After three years of trials we've identified several populations of novel colored carrots that will be incorporated into breeding projects in Washington in partnership with Dr. Philipp Simon of USDA-ARS. We plan to release new varieties in the coming years. The CIOA project reached more than 1,700 producers and other stakeholders between 2012 and 2014 through workshops, field days, and presentations on organic breeding and variety trials. CIOA is funded by USDA's Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI).
Thanks to renewed funding from USDA's Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), the Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC), launched in 2009, will continue for another four years. This unique project has helped to establish a multi-state model of participatory plant breeding focused on the needs of organic growers. Collaborators -- which include Oregon State University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Cornell University, Washington State University, and OSA -- are partnering with organic farmers to breed new vegetable varieties, identify the best performing varieties that already exist, and educate farmers on organic seed production and on-farm plant breeding. In the coming years the NOVIC team will focus on corn, cabbage, bell peppers, tomatoes, and winter squash. OSA's breeding work will focus on open-pollinated red and green storage cabbages and short-season varieties of open-pollinated sweet corn. NOVIC has already resulted in finished varieties of organically bred varieties, including 'Who Gets Kissed?' sweet corn.
OSA is the go-to resource for farm-based instruction on organic plant breeding, organic seed production, and organic variety trials. In 2014, we provided lectures and/or trainings at 41 events representing 9 states. More than 3,000 participants attended these events. We also added seven publications to our online library, including four manuals that help farmers breed new crop varieties on their farm. These manuals include an introduction to on-farm organic plant breeding and three crop-specific breeding manuals covering carrots, sweet corn, and tomatoes. For California growers, we added two new variety trial reports. The first covers results from our 2013 organic wheat variety trials conducted in five Northern California counties. The second report includes data from our 2014 organic silage corn variety trial in Coastal Humboldt County. OSA was also proud to co-release a publication with the Xerces Society that supports organic seed producers in managing pollinators. We distributed approximately 7,000 publications this year.
This year OSA participated in the 2014 Summit on Seeds & Breeds for 21st Century Agriculture, an event hosted by the Rural Advancement Foundation International. The goal of this monumental summit was to build a clear policy pathway for ensuring our public research investments are meeting the needs of a regionally appropriate, diverse, and resilient system of agricultural production. More than 35 participants representing ten universities, twelve agricultural organizations, and four seed collections developed urgent recommendations for reinvigorating public plant breeding programs that meet this goal. While in DC, OSA staff visited Capitol Hill to deliver the seeds and breeds message to members of Congress. The proceedings, which include two papers from OSA staff, are now available.
OSA received funding this year from USDA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative to identify opportunities and priorities for advancing organic plant breeding in the Pacific Northwest. This spring we will host a symposiumfocused on the needs of growers in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. The long-term goal of this symposium is to increase farmer access to regionally appropriate vegetable, grain, pulse, and forage seed that is optimal for organic production. Participants will represent the organic production chain -- from plant breeders to farmers to seed distributors. The information gathered will be turned into a report with recommendations on how best to address gaps in organic crop availability and quality in the Pacific Northwest. The announcement of the symposium followed the release of the Proceedings of the Summit on Seeds and Breeds for 21st Century Agriculture, mentioned above, which detail the erosion of our public plant breeding infrastructure and the resulting impacts on our nation's seed supply. Among the recommendations in this report is the need to host regional seed symposiums like this one to identify plant-breeding priorities for the public sector.
Our advocacy program developed a number of detailed policy comments this year on the topics of GMOs and seed integrity. First, we responded to the recommendations put forward by USDA's Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture. We called on USDA to use its existing authority to mandate contamination prevention on the part of owners and users of GE products, fully investigate the state of contamination in our seed supply, reform the current regulatory framework overseeing GE crops, and issue a fair compensation mechanism for those harmed by contamination. We also submitted comments in response to USDA's environmental impact statement on GE crops that tolerate 2,4-D herbicides. We staunchly oppose these crops, as they would dramatically increase the use of 2,4-D herbicides, which have been linked to serious human health impacts and pose serious risks to the environment and seed integrity. Also related to seed integrity, the National Organic Standards Board's subcommittee on GMOs put out a report on the topic of seed purity. We responded with an analysis that emphasized the complexity of the issues at hand and the need for more research and stakeholder involvement. Finally, on the one-year anniversary of the USDA's announcement that unapproved, GE wheat was found in Oregon, OSA and our allies demanded an end to the approval of GE traits at least until measures are adopted to protect farmers and their markets from contamination. USDA has allowed more than two dozen new GE wheat trials despite not knowing the source of the contamination in Oregon. These trials represent more than 1,000 acres spanning ten states. OSA also published this opinion piece in response to news this past fall that more unapproved GE wheat was found in Montana.
Thanks to support from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service's National Organic Program (NOP), OSA hosted awebinar this year for organic certifiers and certified operations on the issues of organic seed availability, the organic seed regulatory requirement, and a 2013 guidance document that aimed to clarify this requirement. Presenters shared recommendations for encouraging increased sourcing of organic seed. OSA also developed a fact sheet for the NOP website on the same topics, to be published in 2015.
Our Farmer Seed Stewardship Initiative, a partnership with Seed Matters, recognizes that farmers are seed innovators in their own right. These farmers see their role as stewards of seed and seed knowledge, and understand that seed is an invaluable natural resource. We are grateful to Seed Matters for their support in helping us advance education, research, and advocacy that support farmers' ability to save, breed, and produce seed for on-farm and commercial use. This has included providing 100 growers an OSA seed manual to support their efforts in seed stewardship, expanding our education program into new regions, and executing our national State of Organic Seed survey, among other projects.
OSA was a proud sponsor of the 2014 Student Organic Seed Symposium, a student-run event that brings together graduate students, public plant breeders, organic seed advocates, and representatives from the seed industry for a four-day symposium. The gathering provides valuable education and networking opportunities for future organic plant breeders and seed professionals. This year's theme was "Regional Adaptation for Sustainable Food and Seed Systems." OSA's Micaela Colley and Jared Zystro attended the symposium, and Jared presented a talk, titled, "Seed Solidarity," which explored the important role of humans in plant breeding.
OSA is one of four organizations that spearhead the Organicology conference, an event that emphasizes interactive learning opportunities and diverse participation. Organicology brings different 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. The three-day conference provides intensive trainings, workshops, world-class keynotes, amazing entertainment, and networking. OSA organizes all of the seed education for conference participants, including a seed intensive, titled: "How to Increase the Quantity and Quality of Organic Seed on Your Farm." Thanks to conference co-hosts: Organically Grown Company, Oregon Tilth, and the Sustainable Food Trade Association. Register today!
We bid farewell to staff member and friend Dr. John Navazio, who re-located cross-country this past summer to work as a plant breeder for Johnny's Selected Seeds. After serving more than ten years as our senior scientist, we were 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. Our plant breeding work now includes partnerships with seven universities and dozens of farmers across the country.
Open Sesame: The Story of Seeds is a film by award-winning filmmaker Sean Kaminsky. The film explores issues and people impacting seed on a global scale, from GMOs to patents to passionate seed savers. The film features renowned seed experts, including OSA's Micaela Colley and OSA's co-founders, Matthew Dillon and Dr. John Navazio.
OSA was featured in Growing a Greener World, an award-winning show on public television that showcases organic food and farming. The episode, "The Seed Farmer," explores our innovative approach to protecting and improving organic seed diversity. As Joe Lamp'l, executive producer of the show, shared with viewers: "Without the help and partnership of OSA with our farmers, we lose a lot of seed and crop varieties that are critical for biodiversity and so much more."
Two businesses sold products this year in recognition of OSA's work, and both donated a portion of the proceeds.Pura Vida created a bracelet in honor of OSA (see right) and For the Love of All Things (FLOAT) created a T-shirt with the message that seed = food. Thanks to both businesses for their generous contributions to our work.
"I believe a robust organic seed sector requires plant breeders who are committed to developing useful varieties for organic growers. OSA plays a critical role in supporting this next generation of plant breeders by connecting graduate students with organic farmers through innovative, participatory breeding projects and community gatherings such as the biennial Organic Seed Growers Conference. By facilitating these collaborations and the free exchange of knowledge, OSA is a leader in the organic seed movement."
-- Adrienne Shelton, Seed Matters post-doctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
Washington State University
Oregon State University
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Seed Savers Exchange
National Organic Coalition
Organic Seed Finder
Carolina Farm Stewardship Association
Rural Advancement Foundation International
Clif Bar Family Foundation
USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Washington State Department of Agriculture
Oregon Department of Agriculture
Organic Farming Research Foundation
Organically Grown Company
California Wheat Commission
Port Townsend Food Co-op
California Certified Organic Farmers
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“Organic seed is the foundation of organic agriculture and sustainable food systems, and the only true response to GMOs. I support OSA because it provides the technical expertise and organizational structure to establish regionally appropriate organic seed systems.”
The Earthwise Company
Chapel Hill, North Carolina