Vegetable seed growing handbook

Final Report for LNE07-266

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2007: $26,441.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Co-Leaders:
Margo Baldwin
Chelsea Green Publishing
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Project Information

Summary:

The project leader worked collaboratively with extension, a leader of an organic seed company, and a seed education and advocacy organization to; 1) conduct trainings for farmers in Vermont and Maine and 2) gather feedback from vegetable growers in these regions that would be helpful in creating a practical and useful seed growing handbook. Subsequent work with growers in Oregon and Washington also helped to inform the production of this seed growing handbook. In Vermont and Maine, two trainings were held working with 80 to 90 producers. Classes based on these New England classes have reached close to 250 farmers in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) in the last six years. High Mowing Seeds in Vermont confirms that over 15 seed growers using techniques learned from this project have increased their production from 3 total acres to 30 acres of seed for the company over the last 8 years. Target growers working with the project leader in the PNW have collectively increased their acreage on 5 farms from 8.5 acres in 2003 to 32 acres in 2011. They have all increase their profits on seed crops by over 400% in the past 5 years with information supplied from these classes. These growers, and at least 20 smaller growers that have participated in trainings, are increasing their acreage and income with seed crops by planting these crops at the appropriate spacings, using the appropriate soil fertility, using appropriate varieties, incorporating techniques to increase pollination, and increasing their efficiency in cutting, harvesting, threshing, and cleaning seed. The handbook is now complete and going to press. Ongoing evaluation and future enhancements of this work will be facilitated by a reply card to be placed in the first 1000 copies of the book that will be returned to the author.

Introduction:

Through the last decade the growing of vegetable seed is becoming more common across the American landscape. All aspects of the vegetable seed industry are going through a transformation that is leading to a healthy diversification in both the varieties of vegetables that are available and the growers who are producing the seed. There is a burgeoning demand for organic and specialty market seeds that has many farmers trying to grow a commercial seed crop for the very first time. But most growers that are interested in growing seed do not have adequate information on the fundamental farming practices needed to produce high quality seed profitably. Most of the modern information on vegetable seed production is highly technical and is dispersed widely in research publications. Alternately, growers interested in growing organic seed are often frustrated with recent publications advocating “seed saving” on a backyard scale, as it doesn’t provide information for larger scale production. The profile of specialty and organically produced seed is increasing monthly and demand for high quality organic seed far outstrips the current supply. The key component for the success of this seed is “quality,” as there are many cases of poor quality commercial seed being grown by organic growers. These producers still have no single, truly useful manual to guide them.

The objective of my writing with this project has been to produce a seed grower’s manual with detailed practical information for small to medium-sized farmers on the techniques of producing appreciable quantities of vegetable seed using sustainable/organic production farming techniques. This seed guide explores all of the most important seed production practices that are appropriate for a diversified farm. I have gathered practical information on growing vegetable seed under sustainable systems, and have involved a large group of budding seed growers for input and guidance.

Input from farmers has been gathered through a series of workshops, questionnaires, and extension contact with farmers. Extension personnel in Maine and Vermont reported feedback from “Target Growers” over the first two seasons of this project (and as noted in my earlier annual reports I supplemented the information from Maine and Vermont with information from Pacific Northwest growers). This feedback was very insightful and has been incorporated into several elements of the manuscript that will be incorporated into the manual. I have also gathered extensive practical feedback since the inception of this project from many more farmers than I would have thought possible. Workshops funded through two other SARE projects (see Materials and Methods) have been an excellent forum for interacting with farmers already growing seed or interested in developing their seed growing skills. It has directed me as to the depth and the extent of the explanation that will be necessary in many of the key subjects of the book. Feedback via questionnaires has also supplied us with information on their level of understanding, needs, and perceived deficiencies.

I feel I’ve been successful in training farmers about sustainable seed production, to grow seed with better vigor, less disease, higher yield and better quality, and gathering that information in a handbook for other growers. To verify the effectiveness of the information contained in the seed production manual and to enhance future editions, the first 1000 handbooks will include a questionnaire for growers to provide feedback.

Performance Target:

A) Farmers incorporate improved practices learned at workshops for seed production.
We have certainly achieved this target as we have seen many of the farmers we have worked with over the last 8 years incorporate many of the practices that we have taught and demonstrated in our classes and workshops. This has been very evident in at least three ways. First of all in the first two years of this grant we had extension agents Tom Stearns and Mark Hutton visit farmers growing seed crops and they witnessed from 12 to 14 farmers who were using these techniques with some degree of success. Secondly, through the aforementioned SARE grants and work with OSA we have had field days with cooperating farmers at their farms and have seen at least 40 to 50 marvelous examples of farmers that were incorporating these techniques, achieving what we had hoped would be the change we were seeking. This was true not only at the farms where the workshops were held, but we would always take side trips during each field day and visit other interested seed growers in the area and be very pleased at their progress as well. Lastly, we always have farmers fill out questionnaires at all seed growing workshops and would often have 30 – 40 % of the farmers as repeat attendees. From these repeat attendees were many of our best students and their comments were invaluable in learning just which techniques they did indeed incorporate into their production practices. It was also great for the development of the book and to determine all of the techniques that would indeed be incorporated into the manuscript.

B) Farmers keep track of % vigor, seed yields, severity of disease, flowering dates and times. We achieved this target with work done during the first two years of the grant. By organizing 15 “Target Growers” from Vermont and the Pacific Northwest (they were replacements for the original Maine growers) we were able to monitor the amount of seed they grew (seed yields), extent of crop and seedborne diseases, and the percent change in the vigor of the seed they’d grown from one cycle to the next. Much of this was possible due to the good fortune of having Tom Stearns as “lay extension” in Vermont and the fact that he was already working very closely with the good growers who had taken at least one of the Restoring Our Seed (LN02 – 160) classes. As someone running a seed company he was already monitoring yields, incidence of disease, and the germination and vigor of seed lots he was buying. I was able to do the same with Pacific Northwest (PNW) growers who were working with seed companies like Seeds of Change and Territorial Seed Company. As far as monitoring “date of flowering” and “days to flowering” (flowering time) we did fall short and we were only hit or miss on actually monitoring and attempting to improve the seed crops on these traits.

C) Farmers incorporate seed cleaning practices to improve time spent and % of their harvestable yield. Yes, this goal was achieved in a significant way for almost all of our Target Growers. In fact, several of our growers went beyond what we initially envisioned when teaching them how to clean seed. We were very fortunate to have Tom Stearns in Vermont as he not only taught the growers in his region many of the seed cleaning methods, but he was instrumental in exposing them to the appropriate technology to improve the time that they spent cleaning seed. Also, several of the seed workshops we held in the Northwest have been at either Don Tipping’s farm in OR, Frank Morton’s farm in OR, or Nash Huber’s farm in WA and all of these farms have small scale threshing, winnowing, and cleaning equipment, making it possible to teach the growers attending the field days how in their seed cleaning.

Research

Materials and methods:

There have been three main components to the work that has been executed in the past 8 years. First, the most fundamental step has been to gather the basic, time-tested knowledge of how to grow seed of the economically important vegetable crops. This was accomplished in two very traditional ways: 1) through my study of the written literature from the USDA and state agricultural extension bulletins in university libraries (most of it is not available electronically due to its age) and 2) through my ongoing professional interaction with seed growers. This is the necessary background information that was essential to the execution of the preliminary writing and teaching of the workshops.

The second component we used in our approach to prepare and write a useful text for seed farmers was to interact with farmers interested in seed in a series of workshops and classes. This has included workshops for “Restoring Our Seed” (NESARE – LN02 – 160), “Producing Organic Vegetable Seed – Farmer Education Project” (WSARE – SW04 – 115), and a host of seed growing classes I have taught for the Organic Seed Alliance (OSA), a non-profit in Port Townsend, Washington, that has held at least 20 field workshops and 12 three day intensive classes since 2003. Workshops included both a class segment and an outdoor selection and evaluation component with a number of model crops. Our good fortune in all of these workshops has been to have a number of experienced seed growers who were willing to host workshops, use their seed crops for demonstration purposes, and even allow participants to select and transplant the best individuals in the field for the eventual seed crop. This second, hands-on component has been essential in our discovery process in learning what elements our growers need in order to cater the content of the manual to these farmers.

The third and last major component was to elicit feedback from the growers who are the target audience for this book. The feedback garnered from farmers producing vegetable seed has been pivotal in this effort and has come in a couple of different forms. In the first two years of this project we identified 15 target growers from both Vermont and the Pacific Northwest who were actively growing commercial quantities of vegetable seed for the blossoming organic seed market. Through monitoring their progress before and after taking workshops and classes with me, through the various venues available, we were able to consider a number of measurable “outcomes” of real improvement in their seed growing activities. These outcomes were verified and mediated by the extension agents that I originally recruited, Tom Stearns in VT and Mark Hutton in ME. As I reported in the 2004 annual report Tom did an exceptional job mentoring the growers and reporting the results while Mark met with real resistance in Maine. I therefore recruited a number of Pacific Northwest growers that I had trained and worked with as their replacement. We were able to monitor the amount of seed they grew (seed yields), extent of crop and seedborne diseases, and the percent change in the vigor of the seed they’d grown from one cycle to the next. We found improvements in all of these areas with these growers and many of them are still benefiting from their interaction with our programs as is in evidence with this winter’s 6th Biennial Seed Growers Conference in Port Townsend in Jan. 2012, where there will be close to 50 commercial organic seed growers that have incorporated many of the techniques that we have taught in these various forums over the last 8 years.

We have also gathered much valuable feedback and innovative techniques from the farmers I have been working with through this grant and the other SARE grants I have been associated with in the past 8 years. All workshops and classes that have been held in association with seed production techniques have had a very strong emphasis on feedback from all participants. Farmers are always asked (and most comply) to fill out comprehensive questionnaires that gauge their experience and knowledge of seed growing. They are then asked to describe and rank the usefulness of the various kinds of information that they’ve received in our workshops. In all of these workshops we also have taken a lot of time to interact with the attendees, both in the classroom and especially in the field. And as all of the workshops have been held at farms of some of our most progressive seed farmers we have had ample interaction with these farmers. By interacting with these participant growers it is possible to gauge their level of understanding of the materials being taught and therefore determine which material is most appropriate for a seed grower’s manual for organics. This enabled me to garner lots of useful feedback as to what many farmers know, need to know, and are able to conceive in the realm of commercial seed production. This information has been very useful while teaching many of the core concepts that make up major chapters of the manual.

Research results and discussion:

Overview: The increase in seed sales over the last 2 to 3 years has been very important for advancing the work that was originally conceived when stating the original Milestones for this project. The most exciting occurrence has been the increased exposure that many of our growers are receiving from the seed companies that are increasingly selling the seed from growers that have been trained through our outreach and through the work of our extension personnel. High Mowing Seeds in Vermont continues to increase the amount of organic seed offered that is grown by many of the “Target Growers” described in my annual reports. Several other organic seed companies, including Fedco Seeds in Maine, Wild Garden Seeds in Oregon, Siskiyou Seeds in Oregon, and Uprising Seeds in Washington are now able to “source” enough organic seed from some of our best growers to be able to offer large enough quantities to satisfy the needs of commercial organic farmers that are their customers.

Another positive result is that the WSARE sponsored seed growing workshops held in the Northwest were extremely well attended. In fact so many university researchers attended a workshop in Corvallis, Oregon (they were all interested in new avenues of research and heard that organic seed production is the next big thing) that they almost out-numbered the farmers! In February of 2008 we had a National Seed Grower’s Conference in Salem, Oregon that for the second time had over 200 attendees. The 2012 National Seed Grower’s Conference in Washington will have over 350 people attending with at least 40 people from the Northeast USA as well as people from outside of the USA, with representatives from over 25 states, Canada, the Netherlands, France, Ireland, Norway and Mexico. Indeed many of the presenters at this conference are farmers who have achieved a certain amount of knowledge and success in the production of vegetable seed through these programs and are now spreading the word on how and why it is such a good idea for other growers to explore on their farms.

Our accomplishments were indeed well represented by the milestones that we set and have definitely been met during the 8 years that we have worked on this project. The only major course correction that we had to make along the way was with one of the extension staff positions. Mark Hutton, an extension agent in Maine, was going to gather feedback from seed growers in his area and document their successes and failures as beneficiary milestones. As it turned out he encountered resistance in incorporating and expanding on the techniques taught at workshops (in essence they wanted to remain quite small-scale, using home garden scale techniques) and so I personally had to replace Mark, gathering feedback from the progressive growers we have been working with in the Northwest. The number of participants did develop as planned and indeed in some cases went way beyond what we originally expected or planned for. In the following paragraphs below I will explore the specific impacts in meeting our milestones. This is a step-by-step breakdown of the accomplishments made in meeting milestones that were laid out in the original grant proposal.

A) The first Milestone of announcing our workshops was easily met as we have continued support from alternative agricultural publications such as Growing for Market, Mother Earth News, New Farm (on-line), The Broadcaster, the Tilth Journal, and the Capital Press in the PNW. The Organic Seed Alliance website has also been a very valuable way to disseminate information as the visitation to this site is steadily rising. We also have had three feature stories done in the Oregon “Tilth Journal” newspaper on the OSA seed producing outreach that generated much interest in all other activities for the year. The combination of all of these publications (several with a national scope) means we easily reached thousands of potential interested parties, far surpassing the 500 people that we originally concerned ourselves with reaching! Coupled with the over 2000 downloads that we have had on the OSA website for the Seed Grower’s Guides (described in Publications/Outreach), our materials have been very popular.

B) My second Milestone was again easily met. We easily had 150 people register and attend workshops in years 1 – 4. We have had excellent attendance for one day workshops in the past 2 years. This was true in 2006 at Nash Huber’s Farm in Sequim, WA for a spinach seed training (40+ people), at Frank Morton’s Farm in Corvallis, OR for a lettuce and brassica seed training (50+), at Bill Reynold’s Farm in Eureka, CA for a zucchini seed training (30+), and at Don Tipping’s Farm in Williams, OR for a radish seed training (40+). In 2007 we had excellent turnout (35+) at the Mt. Vernon Extension Facility for a two day seed workshop for Skagit Valley crops and a very successful day (50+) at Nash’s farm and lots of farmers and researchers (50+) at Frank Morton’s seed operation in Oregon. The crown jewel in 2006 and 2008 was the Seed Grower’s Conferences in Oregon with 200+ people for 3 days both times with lots of workshops, panel discussions and presentations from academics and successful farmers alike! To top this we now have over 350 people registered for the 2012 Seed Grower’s Conference in Port Townsend, WA.

C) The third milestone of gathering 150 questionnaires was again easily met as we have become fanatical about getting all participants in all our workshops to fill out questionnaires. By now we have many experienced growers attending our workshops and their input into our programs and ultimately into the content of my book is taken very seriously. Much of this information that we have gathered helps shape the classes and workshops that we are providing. It also is an incredible guide in helping to shape the content and areas that will be stressed and given the most attention in the book.

D) The fourth Milestone was set to document the successes and failures of 15 of the most progressive farmers identified by the two extension agents (Tom Stearns and Mark Hutton) in New England who could work closely to monitor their progress. As I reported in the 2005 annual report the Maine growers working with Dr. Hutton did not work out and I replaced these growers with 8 Pacific Northwest seed growers that I had a good working relationship with. As to Tom Stearn’s commitment to report on the cadre of Vermont growers that formed part of this original group of 15 growers was excellent. These relationships supplied us with a lot of excellent feedback for the book.

E) Indeed the fifth Milestone concerned our growers incorporating at least 2 of the cultural practices learned in workshops. Certainly this was true of our Target growers and indeed from repeat attendees we frequently would get feedback where indeed they had used practices learned in previous workshops. We continue to collect questionnaires at all OSA seed workshops and classes and I am always reviewing them for insights into the extent of material that needs to be represented in The Seed Grower’s Manual. The very positive news that I can report is that we continue to see the kinds of improvements that we were monitoring for in addressing the fifth Milestone whenever we interact with farmers who are growing seeds. A sizeable percentage (at least 75%) of the growers that we trained in various forums are actively selecting for improved traits in their seed crops. This same percentage of growers has increased the population size and the isolation distances since learning about these techniques from our work. At least half of these growers are also monitoring for seed born diseases and selecting for plants with some level of Horizontal Resistance to any diseases that may be present.

F) The last milestone concerns the feedback that will be collected at the time of publication. Originally conceived as a postcard that would be included in the first 1000 copies of the book that are sold, we now see it as a longer questionnaire with a phone survey to many of the people on our list who are connected to the local growers (i.e. extension agents or seed company field representatives) who can help get in touch with the primary growers who are most likely to respond.

Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

The classes on organic seed production that have been taught since the first classes with Restoring Our Seed (LNE02-160) in Maine (2002) and Vermont (2003) through almost 8 years of classes spurned by the Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) in 10 states from Virginia to Hawaii have all had various handouts that I have prepared based on material generated from the writing of this book. Many of these handouts concerned major topics covered within the book such as; a) reproductive biology, b) isolation distances required between seed crops, c) population sizes required for healthy populations, and d) guides to specific crop seed production. These handouts became very popular with farmers interested in seed production and we would get requests for them repeatedly after these classes and subsequent workshops were over. We quickly learned that within the farming communities where we distributed these materials, such information as our recommended “crop isolation distances” for seed production became accepted as the norm.

All of these writings have been refined and updated in stages and have resulted in a set of on-line publications that have been made available through the Organic Seed Alliance website. The following titles have been available for free, released over a span of the last 4 years to anyone that answers a couple of questions as to their interest in the material. The first title is a concise 15 page booklet while the rest are 10 – 12 pages. We have currently had over 2000 downloads of these publications collectively. They are available at; http://www.seedalliance.org/download-form-3/

Publications available on-line;
1. A Seed Saving Guide for Gardeners and Farmers
2. Principles and Practices of Organic Bean Seed Production
3. Principles and Practices of Organic Beet Seed Production
4. Principles and Practices of Organic Carrot Seed Production
5. Principles and Practices of Organic Lettuce Seed Production
6. Principles and Practices of Organic Radish Seed Production
7. Principles and Practices of Organic Spinach Seed Production

On-line resources available through extension;
In addition, the same information generated through my SARE work on this book has been instrumental in developing the Organic Seed Resource Guide, which is now available online through the eOrganic section of the eXtension website via our work at Washington State University. Micaela Colley of the Organic Seed Alliance took much of the information that I gathered through my research from the SARE project and put it into short documents for the website. OSA created this guide over the past couple years working with University researchers, Extension, seed industry professionals, and farmers working within the eOrganic Community of Practice. This led to the development of organic seed and plant breeding information for this website that links information from state Cooperative Extension Services throughout the USA . Organic farming resources are created within eOrganic and published through USDA eXtension www.extension.org, the national website for farming related research and information.

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Impacts of Results/Outcomes

The impact of this work is far-reaching as there are several seed companies (High Mowing Seeds, Fedco, Southern Exposure Seeds, Wild Garden Seeds, Uprising Seeds, and Seeds of Change) that now rely on many of the growers that we have trained to supply much of the organically grown vegetable seed that they carry. This may not have been possible without our trainings as many of these growers might not have the tools to do the great job that they are doing without the education that was gained from our workshops.

The number of farmers reached by this project was at least 150 people in each of the years that we have offered workshops and seed growing classes (see Milestone D above). We have also influenced a number of extension agents and university researchers (at least 15 total) in both the Northeast and the Northwest combined since the beginning of this work. This is important as these plant science professionals are now much more aware of the importance of producing quality organic vegetable seed for this important budding market and now know a number of ways that they can help farmers in their area. As an example, Heather Darby, who is now an extension agent for the state of Vermont first learned of this work when working for High Mowing Seeds soon after completing her graduate work in Oregon. She now is intimately involved with a group of farmers from Vermont who are learning how to identify good wheat varieties for Vermont, genetically maintain and select them for their organic production systems and produce seed for themselves and any other wheat growers in northern New England. Another example of extension staff being influenced by this work is Alex Stone at Oregon State University. Alex has attended several of our workshops and has had a number of Oregon farmers come to her for further help. She is now very interested in supporting the budding organic seed growing economy that is thriving in her area and has even published an on-line seed growers resource guide for the entire Pacific Northwest.

Another very important impact of this work has been a new awareness for some of the general public that supports local organic agriculture. There are a number of farmers now growing seed or purchasing seed regionally that are also producing produce for direct sales through Farmers’ Markets or Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares. These growers often have an ongoing dialogue with their customers and the customers often learn about the wonderful, regionally adapted crop varieties that the growers are supplying and where the seed comes from. The customers not only learn the names of certain regionally appropriate vegetable varieties as for the quality they offer, but they also embrace the connection between regionally produced (and organically produced) seed and the ability for their regional farmers to be able to produce these unusual specialty items. We know of a number of cases like this in different parts of the country where this ground swell of support for locally produced vegetables with an emphasis on local seed is occurring and only strengthening our effort.

Certainly the way to keep the momentum going on this interest in regional seed, both culturally and economically, is to have awareness by regional seed companies as to the importance of this and to have regional assistance for farmers getting going as seed producers. The regional support could come from regional seed companies needing a distinguishable regional focus and that are willing to support farmers in their region to produce as well as maintain and select regionally adapted vegetable varieties for their markets. Support can also come from state extension, which can give advice on the cultural, production and genetic aspects of raising a seed crop. The help of non-governmental organizations like the Organic Seed Alliance can also be a big help in this mission as well, with direct consultation with farmers through programs funded by grants by private foundations or governmental groups like SARE.

Farmer Adoption

As I have stated a number of times through the Annual Reports the early information gathered in our first Two Day Intensive classes that were offered to farmers in Maine (2002) and Vermont (2003) through the SARE R&E project “Restoring Our Seed” (LNE02-160), gave us valuable insight into what the most fundamental and valuable educational material is for teaching farmers the skills to successfully grow crop seed organically on their farms. A number of the farmers in the Vermont class held in Brattleboro in 2003 became the important early adopters of a number of the important concepts and practices that we promoted through their work with High Mowing Seeds in Wolcott, Vermont. With the next project funded through a SARE R&E project (LNE03-186) Seed Grower’s Handbook, Producing Vegetable Seeds for Sustainable Agriculture, we executed a very successful program tracking of a number of vegetable seed growers in Vermont. Tom Stearns, president of High Mowing Seeds monitored seven of the growers for a two-year period for their adoption of the practices learned at the Brattleboro class. Tom found a high level of adoption of several key techniques that were learned at the class. The techniques also proved to be key in the development of High Mowing Seed’s growth from producing vegetable seed on 3 acres in 2003 to their current production acreage of close to 30 acres with regionally based organic farmers. Jodi Lew-Smith, the Director of Research at High Mowing Seeds and one of the original seven farmers that we monitored, commented on the impact of our work teaching the basic techniques in 2003 by saying;

“The techniques have been critical in developing a process for producing and maintaining top quality stockseed and for our Vermont growers and in understanding the good practices that are necessary to produce high quality commercial vegetable seed.”

Through this period OSA also started to present the same two-day intensive classes that were developed with NESARE funding in New England in Oregon and Washington state. Coupled with this we also started to present these seed growing practices at Field Days in the Pacific Northwest (PNW). Our three farmer cooperators, Don Tipping in Williams, OR, Frank Morton in Corvallis, OR, and Nash Huber in Sequim, WA, became early adopters of these same practices that were pioneered through our work in New England. As the funding ended for our work with Tom Stearns, we began monitoring the progress and adoption of these farmers in the PNW. Over the next eight years, 2003 – 2011, we have monitored the progress of these farmers and several other standout farmers who incorporated seed growing as a result of our classes (3 per year) and our field days (2 to 3 per year). I have kept abreast of the Measurable Outcomes of their work and their success as seed growers.

Farmer Success Story #1: Nash Huber in Sequim, WA produces close to 120 acres of organic vegetables. He was growing close to 0.5 acre of vegetable seed, mostly for his own use, in 2003 when he first attended an OSA seed growing class. He first agreed to hold seed growing field days at his farm and was eager to expand his seed growing to include commercial production of seeds. He has steadily increased his seed growing from 0.5 to almost 5 acres of seed crops in the current year. This includes commercial contract production, wholesale marketing through an organic seed cooperative, and producing more seed for his own on-farm use. Seed sales have increased by 300% over the past 3 years by going from 2 acres to 5 acres on Nash’s Farm. He accounts much of his success to the fact that he has learned the skills to perform adequate varietal selection, harvest seed at the appropriate time, and properly clean the seed.

Farmer Success Story #2: Don Tipping, of Williams, OR was growing approximately 3 acres of vegetable seed for the wholesale market when we first became aware of his interest in taking the Seed Grower’s class and sponsoring field days in 2003. He confessed that he was struggling to understand more about planting his crops at the proper spacing and how to adequately isolate several crops that were crossing. Over the next 6 years Don doubled his revenue from seeds by improving his seed growing skills on the 3 acres he was producing, while still growing vegetables for a local CSA. In 2009 Don added 2 more acres of leased land to his 3 acres of seed crops and stopped producing vegetables for the CSA. In the last two seasons Don has increased his seed production to 4 additional acres (now 7 total) and has realized an extra $25,000 of gross income from his seed crops.

Farmer Success Story #3: Frank Morton of Philomath, OR was already growing 3 acres of seed and doing his own plant breeding when we first encountered his work in 2002. He actually taught some of the basics of genetic selection at both the Vermont and Maine classes at that time. He however, was not really making a profit on his seed growing at the time as he felt his material was not genetically unique enough to compete in the retail market that he was trying to develop. Through the information that he gleaned from my work he started to prosper in 2005, expanding to nearly 6 acres. Here are Frank’s words on how this happened;

“Even though I was growing seed, what I learned from John’s workshops was the difference between how you maintained and selected for high quality in the self-pollinated crops vs. the cross-pollinated crops and I also learned how to maintain good stockseed so that the seed grower is always planting the best stock, and importantly I learned how to select to produce uniquely superior versions of the seed crops that I was adapting to organic farming practices.”

Frank’s seed business, Wild Garden Seed, now employs 9 workers and has a gross revenue of over $250,000 per year. He also has trained several interns in the dynamics of organic seed production who have gone on to attend graduate school in Plant Breeding and related horticultural fields. He now produces organic seed crops on 12 acres in his community.

Farmer Success Story #4: Brian Campbell of Bellingham, WA started as a produce farmer about 8 years ago, managing a CSA and selling produce at the local farmer’s market. In 2006, after attending both our class and 2 field days, he grew approximately 0.5 acre of seed for small scale wholesale to regional seed companies. Within three years he was producing almost 2 acres of seed crops and by 2010 he was up to 3.5 acres of seed, had created a mail order catalog and was supplying seed racks to 30 stores across the PNW. He no longer grows ant produce, except a garlic crop, and for the last 2 years he and his wife rely solely on revenue from the garlic and their seed business.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

As a scientist I believe that there is always a need for additional study in any area of research. The most important thing that we recognize is that we do not yet have enough information growing seed crops under organic cropping systems. This is something that can only gained through experience. Which specific areas of seed crop production that will need additional study are nearly impossible to know at this time. However, we do know that there is much that we can learn about seed cleaning at an appropriate scale for most of the small and medium size farms that we work with and we are keenly on the lookout for new seed cleaning methods (or old methods lost in the last 40 to 50 years of modern agriculture!)

The information card that is being sent out with the book will give us valuable feedback on what topics need further emphasis in our seed growing educational programs. The positive view is that I am committed to my work for many years to come with organic farmers wanting to grow vegetable seeds. I therefore will continue to teach growers everything I learn about growing vegetable seeds in a sustainable fashion. I plan on rewriting sections of the book as new and better information becomes known to the growers and myself, looking forward to producing a second edition of it as the demand will certainly increase.

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.