Organic Seed Production: Materials, Training, and a Seed Database.

Final Report for EW06-010

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2006: $98,755.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Principal Investigator:
Brian Baker
Organic Materials Review Institute
Expand All

Project Information

Abstract:

Production of high quality organic seed has been identified as a major need for organic farmers in the Western US and worldwide. This project helped agricultural professionals who serve: 1) organic growers interested in seed production, and 2) conventional seed growers interested in organic methods. The partners conducted a short course with two tracks to reach the identified audiences. Information was published for the course that appears on-line, available to agricultural professionals. A database of organic seed sources was upgraded to be more up to date and accessible and the site’s traffic has increased.

Project Objectives:

The objectives of this project were:

1) In the short-term: to increase knowledge of university extension and research faculty, other agricultural professionals, and conventional and organic seed farmers about organic seed production strategies, the market for organic seed, and the availability of materials and trainings on this subject,

2) In the medium term: to develop a higher level of skill in providing information on organic production and specialty seed production by university extension faculty and specialty seed professionals, and

3) In the long-tem: to build a strong, collaborative, western region technical support system for the organic vegetable seed industry, and a thriving organic seed industry.

The performance targets of the project were:

1) Prepare an Organic Seed Resource Guide.

2) Revise, update and expand the Guidebook on Organic Principles and Practices with information specifically targeted for professionals that work with organic seed producers.

3) Conduct a short course on organic seed production that has two tracks for the different target audiences identified.

4) Upgrade and improve the Organic Seed Database.

The project was completed on schedule, and achieved all objectives and performance targets.

Introduction:

As the market for organic vegetables has grown, the supply of high quality organic seed has not kept pace. Organic inspectors have estimated that less than 2% of organic acreage is planted with organic seed (Dillon, 2004). Quality, availability and lack of information about organic seed sources are the factors that producers most often report as reasons for not using organic seed. Production of high quality organic seed has been identified as a major need for organic farmers in the Western US and worldwide (Lammerts van Buren, et al, 2004). Seed companies want to expand their production of organic seed to meet this growing demand but they face many obstacles. Two major obstacles are: 1) the small number of experienced organic seed producers, and 2) the absence of a national database on organic seed availability.

There are two major groups of potential organic seed producers: 1) experienced organic vegetable farmers interested in diversifying into organic seed production, and 2) experienced conventional seed farmers interested in transitioning into organic production. For each of these groups to take advantage of this market opportunity, growers will require quality information on organic seed crop planning, production, and economics. Most organic vegetable farmers interested in diversifying their operations into seed production lack critical information on production techniques specific to seed production. At the same time, most conventional seed producers who want to serve the growing organic market need to understand what is required to produce vegetable seed organically. Disease control and weed management are particular challenges for organic seed producers. Seed-borne diseases and diseases of plant reproductive parts–flower stalks, flowers, and fruits–can threaten the quality of seed production. Weed management is always a significant challenge for organic producers, and this is especially true for seed growers as some weed species can become seed contaminants.

National Organic Program (NOP) standards require that organic farmers plant seeds that have been organically produced (7 CFR 205.204(a)). However, exceptions are made to allow seeds that have not been organically produced ‘when an equivalent organically produced variety is not commercially available’ (7 CFR 205.204(a)(1)). The extent to which equivalent varieties of organically produced seed are commercially available has been identified as a problem for organic farmers and the seed trade (MacDougall, 2005). Vegetable growers need a means to 1) efficiently search for available organic seed and 2) document unavailability to their certifier when organic seed is not commercially available. Because there is currently no centralized system to document availability, farmers can easily make the claim that no organic seed is available; as a result, many organic vegetable farmers buy and plant conventional seed.

The western region is a global supplier of dry-seeded vegetable seed. For example, 75% of the world’s supply of spinach seed and over 50% of the world’s supply of cabbage and table beet seeds come from Skagit Valley in Washington. At least 41 vegetable, 60 flower, and 26 herb seed crops are grown in the Pacific Northwest alone (Rackham, 2002). California is also a major seed producing state, with researchers recognizing that organic seed is a market opportunity that it could miss (MacDougall, 2005). The western US is also a stronghold of organic vegetable production, which strengthens its potential for organic vegetable seed production. High quality seed production is economically vital not only for this region, but for other regions nationally and internationally. If US growers do not quickly step up production to meet the demand for organic vegetable seed in Europe and the US, growers in other seed growing regions (e.g. Israel, Chile, Europe, and China) will fill this market niche. This project seeks to ensure and enhance the viability of a world class organic specialty seed industry in the western US by helping the western region seed industry step up to this market.

Agricultural professionals are already at work increasing the variety and quantity of organically produced seed on the market and have expressed an interest in participating in future trainings. Organic vegetable farmers who attended workshops on organic seed at western organic farming conferences such as Ecofarm and Tilth expressed concern over the lack of certified organic seed and disappointment with the quality of some of the organic seed on the market. Conventional seed industry professionals have expressed strong interest in organic seed production but do not know where to turn for credible information on organic production techniques. Several presentations at the “Conference on Seeds and Breeds for 21st Century Agriculture” in September, 2005 identified the difficulties faced in minor or vegetable cropping systems (Jahns, 2005; Navazio 2005). Numerous participants at these events have identified the need for a national organic seed database.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Matthew Dillon
  • Alexandra Stone

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

The partners published a comprehensive guide on organic vegetable seed production which was distributed in print at the short course and is available free to agricultural professionals on the web via eOrganic, a CSREES initiative. OSA, OSU, and OMRI staff 1) identified existing informal information; 2) annotated and updated the OSU Seed Resource Guide; 3) developed and expanded sections in critical areas, including disease diagnostics, disease, weed and insect management, organic materials identification, and risk management and enterprise planning; and 4) developed these materials for peer-review print and web-based guide to organic vegetable seed production.

The guide includes sections on:

* Specialty seed production: general

* Processing and storage

* Organic vegetable production: general

* Organic vegetable breeding

* Organic seed production: general

* Enterprise planning

* Specific organic seed production issues, including disease, weed, insect pest, and nutrient management

* Risk management

Seed industry and university professionals and experienced organic and conventional and organic seed producers co-authored sections of the guide and reviewed the guide prior to publication. Follow up evaluations from seed industry professionals, university extension and research faculty, and conventional and organic seed growers who attended the short course showed that they found the publication useful.

Guidebook on Organic Principles and Practices, Second Edition

The guidebook developed in the previous WSARE project, Principles and Practices of Organic Farming (Baker, Swezey et al, 2004), was updated and expanded to reflect changes that have taken place since it was published. A current Generic Materials List reflected amendments to organic standards and the resources section was updated with new references.

Organic Seed Production Short Course

The project partners conducted a short-course in Salem, Oregon on February 13, 2008 with tracks directed at the needs of the two major target audiences: 1) fundamentals of seed production for professionals and farmers from the organic industry interested in learning how to grow specialty seed, and 2) fundamentals of organic production for professionals and farmers from the seed industry interested in learning how to grow organically. University extension and research faculty, specialty seed professionals, and conventional and organic seed farmers assisted project partners in developing short course content. OSA mailed invitations to over 1,700 potential participants throughout the western region including Land Grant University personnel, seed association members, and members of professional associations. OMRI emailed its subscribers. The partners sent out a press release.

The short course had an attendance of 110 individuals, including agricultural professionals from extension, university faculty or staff, seed companies, and non-profit organizations. Attendees had a choice to participate in one of two tracks: Seeds 101 for those who were familiar with organic agriculture and wanted to learn about seed production; those who knew something about seed production and wanted to learn about organic farming attended Organic 101. All participants were given binders that contained the Organic Seed Production Guide and the Guidebook on Organic Principles and Practices. The short course was taught by experts from all the partner organizations, professionals from organic seed companies, and experienced organic seed producers. The trainers conducted workshops on fertility management, weed management, disease management, seed production, pinning, and contracting. There was ample time for question, answer, and discussion. Participants were given evaluation forms, which were collected at the end of the short course. A follow up survey was emailed five months after the short course.

Organic Seed Database

OMRI upgraded its seeds database. To do so, OMRI conducted a survey of USDA Accredited Certifying Agents to find out how to improve the database so that it would be a useful tool to assess the commercial availability of organic seed. The objective was to determine how to make the site more useful for organic certifiers and their clients’ needs. The results of the survey were presented at the Organic Seed Conference, Organic World Congress in Modena, Italy . Seed company professionals were consulted on how best to facilitate the posting of varieties and how to most easily maintain the data so that it is up to date. Many of their suggestions were adopted during the upgrade. The number of varieties increased from around 700 varieties to over 1800 varieties. As a result of the improved interface, broader participation by seed companies, additional varieties, and outreach to users, the number of hits on the website increased dramatically. The number of search requests more than tripled from less than 2500 per month to over 7000 in May 2008. Prior to the main planting season, the number of hits on the seed database exceeded the number of hits on OMRI’s products list for several days. An additional workshop to demonstrate the organic seed database was held at the Pacific Seed Association’s annual meeting in Gleneden Beach, Oregon on May 7, 2008. The interest in using such an easy tool to post and find organic seeds is expected to continue growing.

Outreach and Publications

Project funds were used to help create a seeds group for eOrganic, the eXtension Community of Practice for organic agriculture. Current drafts of the Organic Seed Resource Guide and supplemental materials are posted to eOrganic. The cooperators determined that eOrganic, another USDA-CSREES funded project, was the logical place to host the guides and training materials created. Content will be made available to extension associates and related agricultural professionals in the Western region and elsewhere. More importantly, eOrganic offers the opportunity to revise and update the training materials through collaboration with other participants.
The Organic Seed Resource Guide will be published at eXtension.org in November, 2008, when eOrganic publishes its first content to eXtension. Below is a list of the seed guide articles:

Organic Seed Resource Guide: Introduction
Organic Seed Resource Guide: History of Organic Seed
Organic Seed Resource Guide: Breeding for Organic Systems
Organic Seed Resource Guide: Certified Organic Production
Organic Seed Resource Guide: Certified Organic Seed and the National Organic Program (NOP) Regulations
Organic Seed Resource Guide: General Specialty Seed Production
Organic Seed Resource Guide: General Organic Vegetable Production
Organic Seed Resource Guide: Intellectual Property Protection (What Do I Need to Know When Growing and Breeding Crops and Seed?)
Organic Seed Resource Guide: Carrot, Onion, and Spinach Seed Maturation and Harvest in the Pacific Northwest and California
Organic Seed Resource Guide: Isolation Distances and Pinning Maps
Organic Seed Resource Guide: Seed Production Contracting
Organic Seed Resource Guide: Seed Threshing and Cleaning
Organic Seed Resource Guide: Weed Seeds Commonly Found in Specific Vegetable Crops
Organic Seed Resource Guide: Soil Management
Organic Seed Resource Guide: Keys to Disease Management in Organic Seed Crops
Organic Seed Resource Guide: Important Seedborne Pathogens of Vegetable Seed Crops
Organic Seed Resource Guide: Research and Education Organizations and Events
Organic Seed Resource Guide: Pollination and Vegetable Seed Production
Organic Seed Resource Guide: General Pest Management
Organic Seed Resource Guide: Disease Management
Organic Seed Resource Guide: Insect Pest Management
Organic Seed Resource Guide: Weed Management
Organic Seed Resource Guide: Selection and Roguing
Organic Seed Resource Guide: Seed Processing (Threshing, Cleaning and Storage)
Organic Seed Resource Guide: Seed Quality Testing and Certification
Organic Seed Resource Guide: Seed Treatments and Coatings
Organic Seed Resource Guide: Government Agencies and Regulations
Organic Seed Resource Guide: Non-Governmental Research, Education and Testing Organization

Handbook on Organic Principles and Practices: Organic Practice Guide
Handbook on Organic Principles and Practices: National Organic Program: What Agricultural Professionals Need to Know.
Handbook on Organic Principles and Practices: National Organic Summary.
Handbook on Organic Principles and Practices: International Organic Standards: Issues Related to Seeds
Handbook on Organic Principles and Practices: Organic System Plan Overview.
Handbook on Organic Principles and Practices: Can I Use this Product for Disease Management on my Farm?
Handbook on Organic Principles and Practices: Can I Use this Input on my Farm?
Handbook on Organic Principles and Practices: Glossary
Handbook on Organic Principles and Practices: Selected Annotated References

Print versions of the Guidebook on Organic Principles and Practices were distributed to the participants of the Organic Seed Short Course. Sections have been posted to eOrganic, where they will be revised through a peer review process.

Completed Publications and Websites
Organic Seed Resource Guide

Guidebook on Organic Principles and Practices

OMRI Seeds Database

Outcomes and impacts:

This project brought together Seed Alliance, OMRI, CCOF, seed growers and professionals, and OSU/WSU faculty to work together on organic seed production in the western region. All of the participants have contributed to the Seed Guide. This group will continue to update and add to the Guide, and participate as seed and organic production experts in eXtension’s Ask-the-expertand the eOrganic.info web community. This project has resulted in a much stonger western expertise in organic seed production and support.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Interactive Website: Organic Seed Resource Guide on eXtension.org in the eOrganic/Organic Agriculture Resource Area. The Organic Seed Resource Guide provides information to farmers and agricultural professionals on organic specialty seed production, with an emphasis on the western United States. Each section of the guide has an introduction and a list of relevant web and print resources. Because it is a part of eOrganic, it is linked to existing related articles on organic production, including vegetable production and pest and fertility management. New material can be added, and existing articles updated, at any time, using the collaborative workspace. New articles and revisions of existing articles will be published to eXtension.org/eOrganic after peer review. Seed Guide articles will be linked to other eOrganic/eXtension articles as they are published, providing more comprehensive information than the guide could offer if published alone. In addition, Guide users can leave comments on and rate articles, providing feedback on the Guide content (these comments and ratings can be used to improve content and document impact and scholarship).

Users can ask questions that aren’t answered in the guide using the Ask-the-Expert (AtE) tool. Seed and other experts sign up in the eXtension AtE tool. Users type in a question and it is emailed to seed experts. If the first expert does not know the answer, that person refers the question to someone who does. Typically, the question is answered within 2-4 days. If a question is common, it will be transformed into an article on that subject. In the future, user forums may be available on eXtension, providing a moderated space for the organic seed community to network, interact and learn.

This project brought together Seed Alliance, OMRI, CCOF, seed growers and professionals, and OSU/WSU faculty to work together on organic seed production in the western region. All of the participants have contributed to the Seed Guide. This group will continue to update and add to the Guide, and participate as seed and organic production experts in eXtension’s Ask-the-expert and the eOrganic.info web community.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

The publications resulting from this project have provided agricultural professionals reference materials to guide specific seed production practices. Responses from the post conference evaluations indicate specific changes in practices resulting from the trainings and materials related to this project. This information will result in an overall long term improvement in organic seed quality and producer success (profitability) in organic seed production. Specific examples of anticipated benefits resulting from the publications include better management of pollination isolation distances, reduction in incidence of seed borne diseases, and reduced loss of seed quality and yield as a result of inclement weather. In addition to improved organic seed production practices the trainings and Organic Handbook will result in improved success in producers and seed companies transitioning to organic production. This will result in an overall increase in availability of organic seed, thus mitigating a major constraint in the organic production system. Beyond the 200 conference attendees (primarily agricultural professionals and producers) additional beneficiaries have received these materials through ongoing outreach activities by OSA and OSU Extension. Copies of the publications have been distributed in print form at educational events such as farmer field days and seed production workshops taught by OSA staff. Ag professionals and producers look to OSA and OSU for seed production advice. Once available online this information will be extended nationally expanding the positive impacts beyond the Western SARE region.

Future Recommendations

More SARE funding should support content development for eOrganic and eXtension (see description of functionality above), as it provides a single website where users can find information on organic and sustainable agriculture (and many other topics). The content can be linked within and across Resource Areas. eXtension also provides Web 2.0 interactive functionality such as user comments and ratings and Ask-the-Expert, and will in the future support user forums. These kinds of interactivity will provide useful feedback to authors (to improve content and document scholarship and impact) as well as opportunities for community networking and learning.

Participants of the Organic Seed Short Course were asked for suggestions about how to make improvements on the next conference and possible future workshops. The results were passed on to the event organizers to plan for the 2010 Organic Seed Conference. The responses were very encouraging and most were framed as positive suggestions to expand upon and improve the format used. Farmer participation as trainers was well-received. Several mentioned the need to have sections specific to equipment used to harvest and clean seed, with hands-on demonstrations. Such suggestions would likely need to take place during the production season rather than during conference season.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.