Organic Seed Alliance’s (OSA) 8th Organic Seed Growers Conference drew a record turnout last weekend, with more than 500 participants attending the event in Corvallis, Oregon, from February 4 – 6, 2016, and an additional 330 people joining the conference via live webinar. Participants represented 34 states, 10 countries, and 20 universities. Conference co-hosts included Oregon State University, Washington State University, and eOrganic.
The biennial conference is the largest event focused solely on organic seed in North America. More than 80 experts presented on specific topics under the categories of organic plant breeding, organic seed production, enterprise development, and policy.
This year’s conference theme – Cultivating Resilience – reflected the urgency of developing biologically diverse seed systems that weather the impacts of unstable climates and dwindling natural resources. It also spoke to the need for increasing the diversity of stakeholders and innovators engaged in seed systems to discourage concentrated market power and ownership of seed – a public, natural resource that demands careful stewardship.
“’Resilience’ refers to the ability of a system, a community, or an individual to withstand disruption or adversity and even to thrive in the face of challenges,” says OSA Executive Director Micaela Colley. “This year’s conference explored this theme through research, education, and advocacy. Some examples included the role of participatory plant breeding to bolster crop resilience and models of alternative intellectual property to ensure broad access to plant genetic resources.”
The Organic Seed Growers Conference was also a celebratory event – an opportunity to recount our successes and honor the relationships necessary for achieving our shared vision of a healthier people and planet, beginning with seed.
And there is much to celebrate. This year marks the release of OSA’s second State of Organic Seed report, the first five-year update to the only comprehensive assessment of progress we’re making in improving the availability, quality, and integrity of organic seed in the U.S.
Our findings show we are making good progress. Farmers report increased sourcing of organic seed and more satisfaction with the organic seed they are using. Public research in organic breeding has increased tremendously, with investments from both the public and private sector.
Of course, many challenges remain, as most organic farmers still rely on conventional seed for at least part of their operation. Building organic seed systems will continue to take coordinated strategies in research, education, and policy. Our 2016 recommendations, which will be published as part of the full report next month, will serve as a roadmap for the organic community over the next five years.
“A major takeaway from our conference is a strong commitment from diverse stakeholders to continue collaborating on the work before us – projects and policy initiatives that are necessary for developing resilient organic seed systems,” Colley adds.
Cary Fowler delivered an inspiring and hopeful keynote address. Fowler is the former director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust and helped create the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. His legendary career is featured in a new film called Seeds of Time.
Kicking off the conference was a daylong intensive for new farmers interested in learning about organic seed production. Instructors provided an in-depth look at the fundamental techniques of seed production, cleaning, and handling. The training also included guidance on how to improve varieties and support seed quality, including managing isolation distances, avoiding genetic contamination, and selecting seed crops for local adaptation while maintaining healthy, diverse varieties.
Another pre-conference event involved more than 100 participants loading buses to tour organic plant breeding projects throughout the Willamette Valley. Stops included Oregon State University and seed growers and companies in the region. The tour also included a visit to the inner operations of the USDA National Clonal Germplasm Repository.
In conjunction with eOrganic, six sessions were offered free and open to the public as live webinars. The recordings will soon be available at www.extension.org.
Proceedings from the 8th Organic Seed Growers Conference are available for free download on OSA’s website at www.seedalliance.org/publications.
OSA thanks our many sponsors, including our platinum sponsors: Clif Bar Family Foundation’s Seed Matters initiative, UNFI Foundation, and the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security. The Willamette Valley tour was co-sponsored by Oregon Tilth. The seed intensive for beginning farmers was funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.