Spring 2014 Newsletter
Inspirational. Professional. Scientific.
These are just a few words used by participants to describe our 7th Organic Seed Growers Conference held in Corvallis, Oregon, this past January. (Read more reviews and highlights here.) Thanks again to our generous sponsors as well as our co-hosts, Oregon State University, Washington State University, and eOrganic.
We’ll be posting our 2016 Organic Seed Growers Conference dates soon, and mark your calendars for the next Organicology conference: February 5 - 7, 2015.
Our work would not be possible without your support. This spring we’re sending contributors our limited edition 'Abundant Bloomsdale' poster (available while supplies last). Please help “seed” our work at whatever level you can afford.
Best wishes this planting season,
Organic Seed Alliance recently released Climatic Considerations for Seed Crops: Guidelines and Field Trainings for Organic and Specialty Vegetable Seed Producers in both English and Spanish. The guide focuses on organic and specialty seed production in the Northwest. The new publication provides growers an understanding of climatic challenges in their region and how to mitigate these challenges through risk management strategies. It also instructs growers on which crops are best suited to their local climate.
Climatic Considerations for Seed Crops: Guidelines and Field Training for Organic and Specialty Vegetable Seed Producers is available for free download in English and in Spanish.
It's a busy spring for OSA in California. As part of our long-term plan for California, and in response to comments gathered at two California seed stakeholder meetings held at EcoFarm and our Organic Seed Growers Conference, we are undertaking a number of projects in 2014 to help California seed growers connect and succeed. These projects include:
1. An expanded California organic seed growers listserve with more members and regular activities to help seed growers learn from each other and collaborate on work.
2. A seed equipment wiki where OSA staff, producers, and other experts can create detailed information on crop and scale-appropriate [delete comma] seed production, processing, and cleaning equipment.
3. A larger California organic variety trial network, including trials that OSA is directly managing, as well as on-farm trials that we are supporting through consultations. Right now we have carrot, beets, spinach, and wheat trials in the ground, with pepper and onion trials being planted in the next month.
4. A California organic seed growers symposium to be held this winter. This will be an in-depth meeting where producers can share and learn from each other and from experts in the field of organic seed production.
If you grow or buy seed in California and want to get involved with our work this year, contact Jared Zystro, our California Research and Education Specialist.
Organic Seed Alliance released a new report this quarter with results from its 2013 organic wheat variety trials conducted in California. Helping growers identify appropriate varieties is key to increasing the production and profitability of organic wheat on the North Coast of California. This region-specific resource is the first of its kind. The report includes results from a grower survey conducted to inform the 2013 variety trials and easy-to-use scorecards of each variety studied in the trial. The analysis includes data on plant height, yield, moisture, protein, and other characteristics, as well as informal baking trials on harvested wheat.
The 2013 California North Coast Organic Wheat Trials report is available for free download here.
OSA will host a webinar through eOrganic that educates certifiers and certified operations on the topic of organic seed availability and sourcing. The webinar will cover the organic seed regulatory requirement, including the National Organic Program's (NOP) 2013 guidance that aimed to clarify this requirement. Perspectives on enforcement and sourcing challenges will be shared, as well as recommendations for improving organic seed sourcing. This project is supported by a contract from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s National Organic Program.
Save the date for June 6, 2014, from 8:00 - 9:00 a.m. PST.
OSA is in the process of evaluating, and potentially upgrading, our Seed Producers Database. Whether you’ve used this online tool before or not, please take two minutes to answer this short survey to help us determine the value of this database. As background, this tool was established to serve organic seed producers in search of new contracts and markets for their products and seed companies in search of organic seed producers. Organic farmers looking for bulk quantities of organic seed have also used the database as have growers looking to network with other seed producers in their region or crop focus. By creating a log-in, database members can easily search seed producers by crop type, certified organic versus non-organic, region, type of production, and acreage available for seed crops. If it’s determined that this database is an important networking tool, we will quickly move forward with necessary upgrades and promotion to ensure its success and wide use. Thank you for taking two minutes to answer our short survey.
Greenbank Farm, an OSA partner and non-profit educational farm on Whidbey Island, has started the second year of its Organic Seed Project. This project, which is funded through a Washington State Department of Agriculture Specialty Crops Block Grant, aims to encourage new and existing organic farmers in Western Washington to conduct variety trials, save and improve their seed, and network regionally. Project activities include:
- Offering regional farmers stipends and technical assistance to conduct their own on-farm variety trials.
- Launching an online organic seed growers discussion group where members can ask questions, answer questions, and share resources and experiences concerning regional organic seed production.
- Sponsoring regional workshops taught by OSA. This year's scheduled workshops include:
- June 16, 2014: Greenbank Farm, On-farm Breeding with Self-pollinated Crops
- August 2014: Seed Cleaning Workshop (date and location to be announced)
- Initiating a seed equipment rental program where farmers can affordably rent a small belt thresher and air-screen seed cleaner.
- Variety trials, seed improvement activities, and field days at the Greenbank Farm.
To learn more about the project and how to participate, click here.
A new publication from the Xerces Society and Organic Seed Alliance provides clear strategies for conserving pollinators, managing crop isolation distances, and reducing unintended outcrossing between organic and non-organic seed crops. This new publication will aid organic seed producers in understanding the role and diversity of seed crop pollinators, as well as strategies for reducing pollen movement between organic and conventional farms. Profiles of common pollinators, strategies for managing pollination, and guidelines for specific crops are all included.
Pollinator Management for Organic Seed Producers is available for free download here.
OSA submitted comments to USDA this month on two critical issues. We first responded to questions regarding coexistence between farming systems that use genetically engineered (GE) crops and those that do not. Specifically USDA solicited comments in response to recommendations put forward by USDA’s Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture. Because these recommendations fall far too short for farmers, OSA 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 and food supply, reform the current regulatory framework overseeing GE crops, and issue a fair compensation mechanism for those harmed by contamination. Read our coexistence comments here. OSA also submitted comments in response to USDA’s environmental impact statement (EIS) on GE crops that tolerate 2,4-D herbicides. USDA indicated in the EIS that it plans to approve these crops for commercial sale despite evidence that 2,4-D use, an herbicide linked to serious human health impacts, will increase significantly and worsen weed resistance problems, non-target herbicide drift, genetic contamination, and other risks to health, economies, and the environment. Read our 2,4-D crop comments here.
In 2012 and 2013, a GMO ad hoc subcommittee of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) collected comments on a GMO and seed purity discussion document. The subcommittee sought input from organic stakeholders on ways to strengthen seed purity as one step to avoid potential contamination of crops by GMOs. In particular, the subcommittee asked about the appropriateness and feasibility of establishing a genetic purity standard for seed used in organic systems. This month the NOSB posted a report that summarizes the public comments received in response to this discussion document. The report provides the subcommittee’s analysis of the situation. It does not include a recommendation. OSA submitted detailed comments in September of 2012 and is working on additional comments to submit in advance of the NOSB’s next meeting in San Antonio, Texas, from April 29 - May 2, 2014. Learn more about this meetinghere. Comments are due April 8, 2014. Submit comments electronically here. If you would like to discuss this report, please contact Kristina Hubbard.
Earlier this month, OSA staff traveled to Washington, DC, to participate in the 2014 Summit on Seeds & Breeds for 21st Century Agriculture: Meeting the Challenges of Food Security. The event was hosted by the Rural Advancement Foundation International - USA. OSA participated on the planning committee and provided two presentations at the summit. The event brought together public and private plant breeders, seed and food companies, policy advocates, decision makers, and farmers for presentations and discussion on how best to move public plant breeding programs forward in the U.S. The goal of the summit was to build a clear policy pathway for ensuring that our public research investments are meeting the needs of a regionally appropriate, diverse, and resilient systems of agricultural production. A proceedings and white paper outlining a national strategy will be published later this spring. While in DC, OSA visited Capitol Hill to deliver the seeds and breeds message to members of Congress.
The Proceedings from the 7th Organic Seed Growers Conference are available for free download here.
We’re thrilled with the high-quality subject matter and writing included in this year’s proceedings. The proceedings include papers about timely issues in the organic seed community, such as Dr. Jim Myers’ paper on cytoplasmic male sterility (CMS). Also included are scientific papers on cutting-edge research involving breeding for organic systems, including the following entries:
- Status of Cytoplasmic Male Sterility (CMS) in Vegetable Brassicas by Dr. Jim Myers, Oregon State University, pages 134-143.
- CIOA: The Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture Project - Better Carrots for Organic Growers and U.S. Consumers by Philipp Simon, USDA-Agricultural Research Service and Department of Horticulture, University of Wisconsin - Madison, pages 49-54.
- Germplasm Evaluation of Wheat, Spelt, Emmer, and Einkorn for Organic Production Systems, by Lisa Kissing Kucek, Cornell University, pages 28-35.
- Breeding Barley for Organic Production and Craft Malt in Western Washington by Brook Brouwer, Washington State University, pages 17-20.
here. The webinar series was live streamed from the conference earlier this month and attracted 400 online participants. The series features six sessions covering specific topics in the areas of organic plant breeding, organic seed production, and policy. The series also includes a welcome address from Organic Seed Alliance and keynote address from Tom Stearns of High Mowing Organic Seeds. Other archives include:
- Why Organic Seed Matters and How to Meet Demand
- Research Update: Small Grains and Corn
- Research Update: Vegetable Crops
- Unpacking the Cell Fusion Debate
- Pollinator Conservation Strategies for Organic Seed Producers
- Managing Seed-Borne Diseases in Seed Production
Please take a moment to complete this online evaluation from the conference and the pre-conference tour if you haven't done so already. Your feedback is important to our ongoing conference planning.
OSA was thrilled to see the seed stewarding Podoll family recognized as farmers of the year at the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service‘s (MOSES) 25th organic farming conference. Theresa and David Podoll of Fullerton, North Dakota, are pioneers of organic seed production in the Northern Plains and intimately engaged in the national community of seed stewards through research collaborations and seed distribution. Read more about their farm and business, Prairie Road Organic Seed, here.
They are also courageous advocates for sound policy, as evidenced by Theresa’s commentary (view video) on USDA’s pending approval of 2,4-D tolerant crops.
“We’re surrounded by GMO soy and corn,” Theresa says, “and so what wakes me up at 3 o’clock at night, and keeps me awake for the rest of the night, is thinking about the viability of our farm if those crops are approved and released.”
Civil Eats Like Sustainable Food? Support Public Plant Breeding "We had been selecting and improving this particular open-pollinated organic sweet corn since 2008. We did this using a method called participatory plant breeding. In this case, public breeders at the University of Wisconsin-Madison collaborated with organic farmers and the non-profit Organic Seed Alliance to develop sweet corn that thrived in their farming systems..." read full article.
Capital Press Organic Growers Discuss GMO Tolerance Levels "The question of “tolerance levels” for genetic contamination of organic crops is coming to the forefront of the organic industry, experts say. Organic advocates say cross-pollination with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, is a threat to farmers but they’ve yet to arrive at a consensus for handling the issue..." read full article.
Are You a Farmer Seed Steward? Farmers who save and improve seed are innovators in their own right. Their seed decisions and practices impact the quality and integrity of the food we eat, the health of our environment, and the viability of this invaluable natural resource. Farmers are therefore central...read more
New Survey: Organic Farmers Pay the Price for GMO Contamination We know contamination is a huge problem for farmers who don’t grow genetically engineered (GE) crops. With one day left for the public to submit comments to the USDA on “coexistence”, Food & Water Watch in partnership with the...read more
Tasting Cabbage and Talking Seed OSA hosted a variety tasting and discussion as part of last week’s Farmer-Fisher-Chef Connection (F2C2) in Seattle, Washington. OSA convened food growers, buyers, and eaters at the event to taste test six varieties of winter cabbage and discuss breeding and seed...read more
Meet the Author: Atina Diffley | March 27, 2014 | Port Townsend, Washington OSA board member, Atina Diffley, will discuss her recent book Turn Here Sweet Corn. The event will include a question and answer session with Atina as well as a book signing. Join us at 7:00 p.m. at the Port Townsend High School Auditorium. This is one of several events Atina will be part of this March in Port Townsend. Learn more
16th Annual Seed and Plant Exchange | March 29, 2014 | Arcata, California Farmers and gardeners are invited to join OSA’s Jared Zystro and share rare and locally grown seeds, starts, and plants at the upcoming Humboldt Permaculture Guild’s 16th Annual Seed and Plant Exchange. The exchange is taking place on Saturday, March 29, 2014, from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Arcata Community Center. 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