Network analysis of organic seed systems: a systems-level analysis for resilience

Progress report for GW20-216

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2020: $24,997.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2022
Host Institution Award ID: G236-21-W7902
Grant Recipient: University of California, Davis
Region: Western
State: California
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:
Mark Lubell
University of California, Davis
Major Professor:
Liza Wood
University of California, Davis
Jared Zystro
Organic Seed Alliance
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Project Information


Seeds are a foundational component of sustainable agriculture, but little is known about the networked interactions that are critical for supporting a resilient seed system. This project asks:

Q1: How do organic seed stakeholders define resilience for the system, and what are the needs and priorities of each sector?

Q2: What are the structures of three co-occurring collaborative networks (knowledge, supply chain, germplasm) in the organic seed system?

Q3: What can the network structure tell us about resilience of the seed system and management interventions?

The conventional seed system in the US is ill-fitted to meet the goals of sustainable agriculture, as it disempowers stakeholders outside of the dominant firms, limits diversity, and perpetuates the use of chemical inputs. The organic seed sector, on the other hand, is a fledging system with potential to bolster sustainable production. However, seed systems are complex networks that rely on coordination of information and resources across multiple stakeholders and scales, and we have a limited systems-level understanding.

Social network analysis assesses whole-system dynamics by identifying system-wide strengths, gaps, and central nodes for facilitating change. Our team will conduct seed stakeholder surveys with an emphasis on the western US – a region with a high concentration of seed production. Surveys will inform network analyses related to information exchange, supply chain connectivity, and movement of genetic material. Results will be work-shopped in participatory review sessions, transformed into network management tools, presented at grower-oriented meetings, and published by the Organic Seed Alliance and academic journals for agri-environmental governance.

Project Objectives:

Objective 1: Survey 500+ stakeholders in the organic seed value chain (seed producers, seed companies, and Principle Investigators of breeding projects) to define a “resilient” seed system, identify needs and priorities in their respective sector, and inform measures for social network analysis.

Objective 2: Analyze survey results to create a mental model of how stakeholders in the organic seed value chain define “resilience” for the seed system, and develop three types of networks related to the organic seed value chain – knowledge networks, supply chain networks, and germplasm networks.

Objective 3: Conduct participatory workshops with seed system stakeholders to review our preliminary network resilience analysis at the Organic Seed Alliance national and regional conferences (2022) to seek stakeholder input on desired management tools and future interventions.

Objective 4: Publish and present the final report, accompanying resources and tools in coordination with the Organic Seed Alliance via the State of Organic Seed Report (2021), and OSA Annual Conference (2022).


Wood Gantt Chart

Project period: August 1, 2020 - March 31, 2022

Gantt chart attached. Duplicated from the Gantt chart, the general outline includes:

Task Start Date End Date Team
O1: Survey development 1-Aug-20 31-Aug-20 Wood, Zystro, Lubell, Sutton, Peña, Rasgorshek
O1: Survey administration 1-Sep-20 15-Nov-20 Wood & Zystro
O2: Preliminary survey analysis 16-Nov-20 31-Jan-21 Wood & Lubell
O2: Ongoing survey analysis 1-Feb-21 30-Sep-21 Wood
O3: Participatory review sessions 1-Feb-21 31-Aug-21 Wood, Zystro, Sutton, Peña, Rasgorshek
O4: State of Organic Seed (SOS) draft 1-Oct-21 30-Nov-21 Wood & Zystro
     O4: Submit SOS Report   1-Dec-21 Wood & Zystro
O4: Preparation of final presentations 1-Dec-21 28-Feb-22 Wood & Zystro
     O4: Summit & Conference presentations   Feb & March 22 Wood & Zystro
O4: Preparation of academic manuscript 1-Dec-21 15-Mar-22 Wood, Zystro & Lubell
     O4: Submit manuscipt draft   31-Mar-22 Wood, Zystro & Lubell


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Brijette Peña - Producer
  • Beth Rasgorshek - Producer
  • Karl Sutton - Producer


Materials and methods:

Survey development, population identification, and distribution

  • Survey development: The main collaborators on the grant co-developed survey questions relevant to the objectives outlined in the project proposal. Thee parallel surveys were developed for seed producers, seed companies, and seed researchers. A small 'pilot' group of seed producers and seed researchers helped us refine questions to ensure that they were suited to the population. Questions were formatted in Qualtrics Survey software.
  • Population identification: Seed producers were identified through the National Organic Program database as those who listed seed as either a certified crop or product. The list of producers was refined to eliminate oil seeds (e.g. linseed oil) and edible seeds (e.g. sesame seeds). Seed companies were identified through expert review and list development through partners in Organic Seed Alliance. Seed researchers were identified through collecting the Principal Investigators on federal organic seed and agriculture-related grants between 2015-2020.
  • Survey distribution: Survey was distributed online through a four-wave practice, where the survey was open for 2 months, with email reminders every 2 weeks. Surveys were distributed between November 15 2020-Jan 15 2021 (producers), Jan 15 - Mar 15 2021 (companies), and will be distributed to researchers Aug 1 - Oct 1 2021. 

Survey data cleaning and analysis

  • Survey data has been cleaned using R Software and is shared via GitHub Repository (link forthcoming)
  • Survey data is currently being analyzed using R Software and is currently being prepared to develop into an interactive online platform via R Shiny 
Research results and discussion:

Results from the surveys are still forthcoming.

Participation Summary
150 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Other educational activities: We consider our surveys and accompanying farmer discussions our first outreach activity

Participation Summary:

100 Farmers
40 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

The main outreach so far has been through survey distribution and subsequent conversations with farmers. The primary activities and outreach are still being developed. The Organic Seed Alliance State of Organic Seed Report is in progress, slated for publication December 2021. Outreach presentations of preliminary results are being planned for January 2022. Journal articles are in early development, slated for March 2022.

Project Outcomes

Did this project contribute to a larger project?:
Project outcomes:


Knowledge Gained:

The core of this project rests on the understanding that sustainable agriculture relies heavily on the social and economic systems in which it is embedded. Managing for sustainable agriculture is not based only on understanding the technical practices, but also limiting the barriers to adopting those practices by facilitating supportive connections along the supply chain and through peer networks. This work is an ongoing lesson in the importance of networks in defining sustainable agriculture transitions.

Information Products

    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.