Organic Seed Alliance recently received a number of grants to support organic seed research and education throughout the country. From conducting variety trials to marketing new organic varieties, these projects will further strengthen regional seed systems that support our national supply of organic seed. Here are our new projects in a nutshell:
Understanding Organic Seed Economics
Keeping up with the economics of organic seed production is a challenge for many growers. Which seed crops do well in my region and are most profitable? How do I market the seed I grow? How do I minimize risk and reduce costs? Two grant awards will help us develop tools and resources that help growers answer these and other questions. First, an award from the Montana Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crops Block Grant Program will allow us to work directly with an agricultural economist and five organic seed producers to develop a seed economics manual complete with enterprise budget templates and tools, case studies, and tips on how to approach seed contracts. Organic seed production is a developing industry and a viable opportunity for Montana’s organic growers, and this project will provide farmers the tools and confidence they need to enter into a growing market.
Beyond the Intermountain West, a second award, funded by the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Risk Management Agency (RMA), is supporting a national organic seed economics intensive at our upcoming Organic Seed Growers Conference. The intensive is delivered in partnership with Oregon Tilth and Oregon State University and takes place February 14, 2018. Space is limited, so interested participants should register soon. A webinar series and online tutorial will also be developed to ensure broad access to this information.
Using Variety Trials as a Risk Management Tool
Organic agriculture can provide benefits for farmers, consumers, and the environment, but organic farmers face risks above and beyond the risks that all farmers face. One way to minimize farming risks is to identify the most suitable plant genetics for your farm. To assist farmers in doing just that, USDA-RMA awarded OSA a second grant to promote variety trials as a sound risk management tool. In 2018, we’ll be training organic specialty crop growers in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota in conducting variety trials through on-farm and conference workshops, a webinar series, and an online toolkit. These resources aim to reduce risk of crop loss, increase agronomic success and crop marketability, and facilitate compliance with the National Organic Program’s certification requirement to use organic seed when available. We’re excited to be partnering with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Services (MOSES) on this project.
Commercializing New Organic Seed Varieties
OSA has spent years collaborating with farmers and business partners on an organically bred purple sprouting broccoli (PSB) variety that’s adapted to Pacific Northwest conditions. Farmers harvest PSB in early spring when little is available in the way of local produce. Now, thanks to support from the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, OSA will make organic seed from this variety commercially available to farmers and develop a marketing campaign for this early season vegetable. This award allows us to conduct one more year of selection on our breeding population in addition to large-scale trails on cooperating farms in five Washington counties. And we’ll be documenting best practices from field to catalogue, meaning we’ll collect and publish what the optimal methods are for planting, harvesting, packaging, and marketing. The release of this variety will be as collaborative as its development, as we’ll work closely with farmers, retailers, and chefs to promote the variety and demonstrate its potential.