Saving our Seed: A program to train farmers

Final Report for LS03-156

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2003: $204,500.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Principal Investigator:
Tony Kleese
Carolina Farm Stewardship Association
Co-Investigators:
Brian Cricket Rakita
Carolina Farm Stewardship Association
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Project Information

Abstract:
The Saving Our Seed Project Summary

The project has successfully raised awareness, production, availability, and knowledge about local and organic seeds in the Southeast. Where some desired seed types are not suited for mass production in the region, we have forged alliances with seed dealers, seed producers, and non-profit organizations in other regions and their counterparts here to produce high quality well adapted seed of these types for us. We have inspired folks throughout the area to seriously evaluate which cultivars are the best performers in their microclimates and have trained many sustainable and organic growers to produce the seeds that they can use and sell.

Project Objectives:
Saving Our Seed Objectives

From the original proposal:

Our main objective is to increase the availability of regionally produced and adapted, certified organic, open pollinated seed. Achieving this objective involves the following steps:
1. Survey farmers on what seed crops they think are in greatest need.
2. Based on survey results, identify specific crops and potential farmer participants.
3. Research current available information on organic/open pollinated seed production and identify obstacles or missing information.
4. Develop draft seed production management plans for the organic and open pollinated seed varieties within the identified crops.
5. Develop and conduct Seed Production workshops.
6. Work with farmers to plant crops and record data for improving seed production management plans.
7. Develop an infrastructure team to evaluate issues related to seed harvest, cleaning, storage, and distribution.
8. Develop strategies for addressing issues related to seed harvest, cleaning, testing, storage, and distribution.

Introduction:
Original Abstract and Literature Review

From the original proposal:

The USDA’s National Organic Program requires that organic producers use certified organic seed. The availability of certified organic and open pollinated heirloom varieties that are adapted to southeastern conditions is negatively impacting the growth of organic agriculture in the Southeastern U.S. Southeastern organic farming organizations, Crop Improvement Associations, Foundation Seed Producers, small seed companies, and farmers will work together to coordinate research and educational projects to address the issue of the availability of regionally adapted, open pollinated, certified organic seed. The proposed project will survey farmers to identify their seed needs, research and develop seed production management plans, conduct seed production trainings for farmers and Extension Agents, stimulate on-farm production of organic seed, and examine the infrastructure needed to develop proper harvest, cleaning, storage, and distribution systems. The immediate economic outcome will be that organic farmers in the southeast will be able to diversify their income potential by producing organic seed. The long-term economic impact will be that farmers will find it easier to enter the growing organic market due to increased availability of organic and regionally adapted varieties. The environmental impact of the project will be that more farmers will shift their practices to organic, which will reduce the pesticide and nutrient contamination of our soil, water, air, and food. Socially, the project will strengthen our rural communities by fostering locally owned business and employment opportunities.

Conventional plant breeding is characterized by a strict division between breeders and growers and has too little consideration for the diversity in farm conditions (van Bueren et al., 1998). In addition, conventional breeders are looking for varieties that have a wide economic and geographical range to support the cost of development and production of new varieties. The optimal adaptation of a variety to circumstances on an organic farm, such as soil condition, climate and disease pressure should be achieved through breeding and selection in organic circumstances at the crop level (van Bueren et al., 1998).

The project coordinator and collaborators have struggled to identify significant research on organic production practices for seed. Most research that we could identify was specifically related to breeding practices as they relate to organic agriculture with the majority of the work being done in the European Union. There is plenty of information available on seed production and harvesting for both hybrid and open pollinated varieties and the expertise of many of the project collaborators will meet our informational needs in this area. One of the initial activities of the project will be to compile available information or experience on organic/open pollinated seed production and couple it with conventional production techniques as a foundation for the management guides. We will also be in close contact with a similar SARE funded project in the Northeast to share resources.

Research

Materials and methods:

The Saving Our Seed project has hosted the following intensive seed production training sessions:

In February 2004, we held seed production workshops in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia. These were primarily geared towards assisting farmers in raising seed from a planning/management perspective. There were 31 people at the GA workshop, 43 at the North Carolina workshop, and 49 at the Virginia workshop. The evaluations from these events were very positive.

In July 2004, we held workshops in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia. These workshops were geared to provide growers with a hands-on lesson in seed saving and processing techniques. There were 31 attendants in GA, 35 in NC, and 41 in VA. The evaluations from these workshops were generally positive, but they stressed a need for a more multi-media based presentation. Also, many stressed the desire not to go out to the field in the heat of the day. From these, we have decided that future summer field day workshops should startle dinner instead of lunch, with the outdoor portion occurring after dinner.

In October 2004, we held a 2 day seed testing workshop in Virginia. 41 People attended this workshop. We drove a van from Georgia northward to the workshop acting as a bus for growers in southern states that otherwise could not have afforded to attend. In this van, we carried growers from outside Athens GA, Akin SC, Asheboro NC, Charlotte, NC, and Greensboro, NC.

In February 2005, we again held farm planning workshops in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia. There were 34 people at the Georgia workshop, 51 people attended the North Carolina workshop, and 18 people attended the Virginia workshop. Attendance at the Virginia workshop was stifled by a four inch snowfall the night before; there were 38 people signed up for the event. Based on the feedback from the prior July workshops, we incorporated Power Point presentations into the workshops. The evaluations were very positive,

In March 2005, we held a workshop in Tallahassee, FL in conjunction Dr. Jennifer Taylor, Ph.D. of Florida A&M University, teaching whole farm planning for organic seed production that was attended by fourteen people. The evaluations were very positive.
In July, the workshops focused on hands on seed saving and disease recognition. In July and August 2005, we hosted hands on seed saving field days in Maryland, North Carolina, and Georgia. There were 32 people at the Georgia workshop, 16 people at the North Carolina workshop, and 22 people at the Maryland workshop. Based on the feedback from the prior July workshops, we incorporated Power Point presentations into the workshops. The evaluations were very positive.

The Saving Our Seed Project produced the following short classes (2 hours or less) for seed production training:

2004 Sustainable Agriculture Conference, Cover Crop seed production, Basic Seed Saving, Advanced Seed Saving, The State of the Organic Seed Business.

2005 Sustainable Agriculture Conference, GMO Roundtable, Basic Seed Production, Advanced Seed Production, Growing Seed Commercially

2006 Southern SAWG, How to Grow Better Seed than you can Buy

2006 Organic Grower’s School, Outstanding Cultivars for the Southeast

2006 Sustainable Agriculture Conference, Basic Seed Saving, Variety Trials in the Southeast.

We have produced the following seed production guides:

The Isolation Distance Guide
Seed Processing and Storage
Bean Seed Broduction
Brassica Seed Production
Cucurbit Seed Production
Pepper Seed Production
Tomato Seed Production

All of these guides are available on our website. We have distributed the following guides through the life of the project:

343 Tomato Guide Downloads from within the region
475 Tomato Guide Downloads from outside the region
254 Seed Processing and Storage Guide downloads from outside the region
128 Seed Processing and Storage downloads from within the region
157 Pepper guide downloads from within the region
160 Pepper guide downloads from outside the region
285 Isolation guide downloads from outside the region
218 Isolation guide downloads from within the region
101 Cucurbit guide downloads from within the region
79 Cucurbit guide downloads from outside the region
163 Brassica guides from outside the region
80 Brassica guide downloads from outside the region
85 Bean Guide Downloads from inside the region
124 Bean guides from outside the region
480 Bean, Pepper, Storage, Isolation, and Tomato guides handed out on paper
950 of the above handed out on cd
340 Brassica guides handed out on paper
850 Brassica guides handed out on cd
350 Cucurbit guides handed out on paper
550 cucurbit guides handed out on cd.

With the help of the Infrastructure Committee, we have aided three organic southeast seed production facilities in acquiring and managing the equipment they need to produce large quantities of high quality seed.

Research results and discussion:

The Saving Our Seed project has greatly aided the successful construction of a southeast organic seed network. On our Survey, which remains part of our savingourseed.org webpage, in 2006 we received 107 responses from within our region. Of these, only 29 (27%) indicated that there are major types of organic seed that they are unable to find. This compared to 1994 when we received 123 responses from within the region, of which 106 (86%) identified difficulty finding organic seeds for major crop types.

From the work of the Organic Seed Sourcing Service, in 2006 we were able to help folks source the exact cultivar of organic seed they were looking for 74% of the time.

We have made inspired seed dealers from outside our region to produce organic seeds of types that are popular in use here but are difficult for us to produce in large quantities. These include crimson and other clovers, hairy vetch, and local favorite varieties of garden beans.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

The Saving Our Seed Project has produced the following documents:
The Isolation Distance Guide
Seed Processing and Storage
Bean Seed Broduction
Brassica Seed Production
Cucurbit Seed Production
Pepper Seed Production
Tomato Seed Production

Copies of the above are attached to this report.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The Saving Our Seed project has worked with many organic growers to successfully produce both organic and sustainably raised seed in the Southeast.

In 2004, we had fifteen people growing Southern Seed Legacy crops for seed and fourteen people growing Southern Exposure Seed Exchange crops for seed under the project. The Southern Seed Legacy project had a positive result from eight participants. There were eleven successful seed returns from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange seed projects. Of these, five were Certified Organic.

In 2005, we had 26 Certified Organic Growers work with raising certified organic seed. Of this, we had successful crops from 14. We worked with 9 non-organic growers. Of these, we had successful crops from 7.

The Certified Organic Seed Sourcing Service in 2005 has assisted 157 folks find documentation about the certified organic seeds they were seeking.

In 2006, we had 32 Certified Organic Growers work with raising certified organic seed. Of this, we had successful crops from 21. We worked with 18 non-organic growers. Of these, we had successful crops from 12. In addition to the increase in the number of growers we worked with, we also produced a lot more seed. Two of the growers alone accounted for 20 acres of seed production, all of which was harvested successfully and most of which was sold.

In 2006, the Organic Seed Sourcing Service helped 789 folks find the organic seed they were looking for. The feedback about the service has been very positive.

Economic Analysis

The Saving Our Seed Project has exceeded all of its objectives. As well, we have developed the Organic Seed Sourcing Service, helping growers find the organic seed they are looking for. Many farmers in the Southeast have added seed production to their cropping plans for a variety of reasons. Primarily, many have learned to can raise their own seed, often of better quality than they can purchase. Furthermore, as seed crops tend to perform well in a moderate drought, farmers have looked to seed production to hedge their overall production plan.

Furthermore, the Organic Seed Sourcing Service has helped growers more easily locate the organic seed they were looking for. This has strengthened the ability of many growers to produce organic crops with high quality organic seed, increasing the profitability of their products. Also, the service allows them to focus less time on researching where to get seed, and therefore more time on growing outstanding organic products.

Farmer Adoption

I generally advise farmers to begin by attempting small seed saving projects of their favorite open pollinated cultivars in situations can easily fit into their whole farm plan. I have found that if they are able to follow the basic principals and practices laid out in the seed production guides, they will soon learn that seed saving, either for themselves or for commercial sale, increases their profitability and their effectiveness as farmers. I generally advise farmers against attempting more than two seed production projects in their first year of seed saving, as the amount of learning involved for each tends to be overwhelming otherwise.

As stated earlier, The Saving Our Seed project has hosted the following intensive seed production training sessions:

In February 2004, we held seed production workshops in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia. These were primarily geared towards assisting farmers in raising seed from a planning/management perspective. There were 31 people at the GA workshop, 43 at the North Carolina workshop, and 49 at the Virginia workshop. The evaluations from these events were very positive.

In July 2004, we held workshops in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia. These workshops were geared to provide growers with a hands-on lesson in seed saving and processing techniques. There were 31 attendants in GA, 35 in NC, and 41 in VA. The evaluations from these workshops were generally positive, but they stressed a need for a more multi-media based presentation. Also, many stressed the desire not to go out to the field in the heat of the day. From these, we have decided that future summer field day workshops should startle dinner instead of lunch, with the outdoor portion occurring after dinner.

In October 2004, we held a 2 day seed testing workshop in Virginia. 41 People attended this workshop. We drove a van from Georgia northward to the workshop acting as a bus for growers in southern states that otherwise could not have afforded to attend. In this van, we carried growers from outside Athens GA, Akin SC, Asheboro NC, Charlotte, NC, and Greensboro, NC.

In February 2005, we again held farm planning workshops in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia. There were 34 people at the Georgia workshop, 51 people attended the North Carolina workshop, and 18 people attended the Virginia workshop. Attendance at the Virginia workshop was stifled by a four inch snowfall the night before; there were 38 people signed up for the event. Based on the feedback from the prior July workshops, we incorporated Power Point presentations into the workshops. The evaluations were very positive,

In March 2005, we held a workshop in Tallahassee, FL in conjunction Dr. Jennifer Taylor, Ph.D. of Florida A&M University, teaching whole farm planning for organic seed production that was attended by fourteen people. The evaluations were very positive.
In July, the workshops focused on hands on seed saving and disease recognition. In July and August 2005, we hosted hands on seed saving field days in Maryland, North Carolina, and Georgia. There were 32 people at the Georgia workshop, 16 people at the North Carolina workshop, and 22 people at the Maryland workshop. Based on the feedback from the prior July workshops, we incorporated Power Point presentations into the workshops. The evaluations were very positive.

The Saving Our Seed Project produced the following short classes (2 hours or less) for seed production training:

2004 Sustainable Agriculture Conference, Cover Crop seed production, Basic Seed Saving, Advanced Seed Saving, The State of the Organic Seed Business.

2005 Sustainable Agriculture Conference, GMO Roundtable, Basic Seed Production, Advanced Seed Production, Growing Seed Commercially

2006 Southern SAWG, How to Grow Better Seed than you can Buy

2006 Organic Grower’s School, Outstanding Cultivars for the Southeast

2006 Sustainable Agriculture Conference, Basic Seed Saving, Variety Trials in the Southeast.

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

Many organic farmers in the Southeast do not have a clear idea of what cultivars perform best here. As our market for these seeds is small compared to other regions, most organic seed dealers generally do not perform adequate trials to determine which cultivars perform the best here, and when they do, the information gleaned from their trials is often not made public and/or accessible to the average grower. Performing a valid scientific trial is a large task and not many farmers have the ability. Therefore, I strongly believe that the Southeast is in need of objective detailed trialing of the available organic cultivars (on organic farms) to determine which are most suited for our organic farming systems.

Furthermore, there is much work that can be done organically breeding seed to be genetically resistant to many of the largest disease and insect pests. Of particular concern to me are septoria leaf spot in tomatoes, flea beetles and harlequin bugs in brassicas, and squash vine borers and squash bugs in squash. It is my firm belief that the most sustainable way to address these challenges is through classical and hybrid breeding, and I believe that it is in the interest of the region that public and private funding be available for this work.

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.