Southern Organic Seed Summit

Final report for LS19-320

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2019: $49,957.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2021
Grant Recipient: Organic Seed Alliance
Region: Southern
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Jared Zystro
Organic Seed Alliance
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Project Information

Abstract:

Seed is one of the most critical inputs a farm relies on, and organic farmers are required to utilize organic seed when available. But seed is more than an input. Seed is a natural resource requiring broad and collaborative stewardship. The quality of seed and the suitability of a variety can make a very substantial impact on the profitability, environmental impact, and sustainability of the farming operation. Organic foods sales exceed 45 billion dollars annually, et organic farmers remain dependent on a highly consolidated, conventional seed industry to supply their genetics. Organic farmers in the Southern region are further challenged by a unique growing climate with high humidity, and low winter chilling, which limits the range of species suitable for production of high quality seed. Successful seed production requires knowledge of appropriate production practices, infrastructure needs, markets, agroecological implications, and the suitability of the crop for seed production in the local environment. Seed production education was identified as a top priority in Organic Seed Alliance’s Southeast Seed Needs Assessment. The proposed education program will build upon the momentum of regional collaborators. Delivering seed production education will empower farmers to expand organic seed production while addressing the risks and impacts on the whole farm system.

We propose to create an integrated curriculum to train Southern farmers in the fundamentals of seed production and variety improvement. The initial delivery of this curriculum will occur during the 2019 Southeast Seed Summit, a two and a half day conference for seed producers and other stakeholders. The seed summit will feature workshops on seed topics including seed production, plant breeding, variety trials, and seed enterprise development, as well as farmer to farmer information sharing, networking and listening sessions. It will be geared toward current and potential seed growers; however, seed companies, plant breeders, and other key stakeholders will also participate. It is anticipated that 100 attendees will participate in the summit, including 75 farmers and 25 other stakeholders.

The curriculum developed for the summit will be delivered across multiple formats with a long shelf life. All presentations will include written course materials that will be included in a book of proceedings and available online. Workshop sessions will be live-streamed to remote participants, and will be archived as online videos. OSA has found that this combination of live-streaming and archiving presentations has been successful in reaching farmers by allowing them to access content in a way and time of their choosing. It is anticipated that by the end of the project, we estimate that 200 additional farmers will access the content through the proceedings and videos, with substantial use beyond the project end date.

Project Objectives:
  • Increase Southern farmers’ skills and knowledge in organic seed production.
  • Increase Southern farmers’ knowledge of the suitability of various crop species for seed production in their local climate and growing conditions.
  • Increase Southern farmers’ knowledge of plant breeding and variety improvement to increase the number of regional adapted varieties.
  • Build a Southern regional network of farmers, researchers, extension, seed companies, and other stakeholders to collaborate on organic seed production, research, education, and marketing efforts.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Ira Wallace - Producer (Educator)
  • Edmund Frost - Producer (Educator)

Research

Involves research:
No
Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

The focus of this project was on hosting the 2019 Southeast Seed Summit, where current and potential seed growers, seed companies, plant breeders, and other key stakeholders in the Southeast seed system could come together to learn, share information, build connections, and plan for collective actions. The content of the summit was designed as a blend of listening sessions, strategic planning, seed production information, and networking. The informational sessions included sessions on Southeast vegetable seed production, field crop seed production, managing climate effects in seed production, seed economics, variety trial planning, and plant breeding. While the workshops were anchored by more formal presentations, most of them were also designated as “open space sessions,” where participants could sign up to share their experiences on the topics as part of each session.  The strategic planning sessions were grounded in an initial, facilitated conversation on how to reach out and expand the Southeast seed network to bring in more traditionally underserved groups. The strategic planning sessions were structured to first identify the key challenges and strengths of Southeast seed systems, and then to identity actions that can be taken to address the challenges and build on the strengths. Finally, casual events like a “Seed Showcase” allowed participants to highlight the seeds they steward and seed work they do while networking with other attendees.

In order to broaden the reach of the curriculum developed for the Summit and the ideas and actions developed in the Summit, additional content was made available online. This included video recordings of the sessions and a proceedings with the summary of the strategic planning work and the workshop content. In addition, to help strengthen the connections of this seed network, a shared online space for Southeast seed system information and contacts was created, an email listserve was developed, and post-summit virtual planning calls were hosted. 

 

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
7 Online trainings
11 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary

68 Farmers
17 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

The Southern Organic Seed Summit project had the following education and outreach activities and products:

Learning Outcomes

34 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation

Project Outcomes

31 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
1 Grant received that built upon this project
12 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

By providing training for Southeast seed producers, identifying priority actions, and strengthening the bonds of the Southeast seed network, this project has helped to build the capacity of the Southeast to produce regionally adapted seed. Seed is one of the most critical inputs a farm relies on, and the vast majority of seed varieties are developed for, produced in, and sold from other regions of the country. By empowering farmers and seed companies in the region, this project will support the development and distribution of regionally-appropriate crop varieties, increasing agricultural sustainability by reducing the need for inputs to control diseases and pests where genetic resistance can be developed while also reducing risks associated with yield loss or crop failures. By training more farmers in seed production, this project provides additional economic benefits by allowing farms to diversify their farm enterprises to include seed production, reducing their dependence on off-farm inputs and providing a market opportunity.

Recommendations:

As part of the Seed Summit, a few key areas of work to support Southeast seed systems were identified by participants. The broad areas were:

1. Internal network building – human centric
2. External education – celebrate and promote local seed
3. Economics of seed production – make seed production more viable
4. Create infrastructure for sharing information
5. Climate impacts – breeding, trials

These areas of work were seen as priorities for strengthening regional seed development. Many of the details for each of these areas are outlined in the summit proceedings, found here: https://seedalliance.org/publications/2019-southeast-seed-summit-proceedings/

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.