UPDATE (2/26/15): This symposium will now be hosted February of 2016 in conjunction with our 8th Organic Seed Growers Conference.
Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) has announced that it will host a symposium this spring to identify opportunities and priorities for advancing organic plant breeding in the Pacific Northwest.
“The long-term goal of this symposium is to increase farmer access to regionally appropriate vegetable, grain, pulse, and forage seed well-suited for organic production,” says Micaela Colley, executive director of OSA. “Farmers who follow organic practices must focus more on prevention and resistance because they have fewer inputs at their disposal. They need crop varieties developed specifically for low-input systems – crops that mitigate pest and disease pressures, and that are adapted to their Pacific Northwest conditions and climates.”
Organic farmers face different challenges than their conventional counterparts, such as having fewer allowable inputs available for dealing with pest and disease pressures. To date, plant-breeding efforts focused on organic systems have been minimal, and organic farmers remain underserved in seed adapted to organic conditions. Research demonstrates that varieties developed under conventional, chemical-intensive conditions are not always successful in organic and other low-input systems.
The symposium – which focuses on the needs of growers in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho – will bring together stakeholders representing the organic production chain. Public and private plant breeders will be joined by farmers, seed distributors, food processors, and other seed and food professionals to identify critical gaps in crop availability and quality in the Pacific Northwest. The information gathered from this targeted group will advise public plant breeding efforts through a report that will include detailed recommendations.
The organizing committee includes Oregon State University and Washington State University, two institutions already engaged in organic plant breeding. The Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, with offices in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, is also a committee member.
“The Pacific Northwest holds great potential for increasing production of regionally adapted organic varieties to meet the diverse needs of farmers,” says Jennifer Miller, director of the Healthy Food and Farms Program for the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides. “This is a unique seed-growing region defined by climates that allow for the production of many vegetable and grain crops. Furthermore, organic farming represents a significant sector of agriculture in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.”
The announcement of the symposium follows a recently released report detailing the erosion of our public plant breeding infrastructure and the resulting impacts on our nation’s seed supply.
The Proceedings of the Summit on Seeds and Breeds for 21st Century Agriculture, published by the Rural Advancement Foundation International in October, includes papers and discussion from a two-day summit held in March of this year in Washington, DC. There, more than 35 participants representing ten universities, twelve agricultural organizations, and four seed collections developed urgent recommendations for reinvigorating public research that delivers regionally adapted and diverse seed options to farmers.
Among these recommendations is the need to host regional seed symposiums, like the one announced today, to identify plant-breeding priorities for the public sector. Participants in the March 2014 summit emphasized the need to develop new partnerships and models to address more regionalized and participatory approaches that involve farmers in the breeding process.
“Farmers play a crucial role in building our nation’s seed supply for modern agriculture to expand, thrive, and meet new agricultural challenges,” says Beth Rasgorshek, an organic seed producer and owner of Canyon Bounty Farm in Nampa, Idaho. “Organic farmers need more options in seeds that are adapted to organic conditions and to their local climates and markets. Our public land grant universities need adequate funding and staffing to carry out the critical work of engaging organic farmers in participatory plant breeding projects. I, for one, would jump on an opportunity like this tomorrow.”
OSA’s symposium is supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2014-67013-22404 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Organic Seed Alliance advances the ethical development and stewardship of the genetic resources of agricultural seed. Learn more at www.seedalliance.org.
The Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides works to protect community and environmental health and inspire the use of ecologically sound solutions to reduce the use of pesticides. Learn more at www.pesticide.org.
Seeds & Breeds Summit Proceedings Key Findings http://sustainableagriculture.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/NSAC-Seeds-and-Breeds-Proceedings-Summary.pdf
Proceedings of the Summit on Seeds and Breeds for 21st Century Agriculture http://rafiusa.org/publications/seeds/
Kristina Hubbard, Organic Seed Alliance, (406) 544-8946, email@example.com; Jennifer Miller, Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, (208) 850-6504, firstname.lastname@example.org; Beth Rasgorshek, (208) 697-6208, email@example.com