A sustainable food system depends on a seed system that is decentralized, robust, and responsive to farmers’ needs. Over the last 100 years, seed systems have become consolidated and corporatized, with 3 global companies now owning over 65% of the world’s agricultural plant genetic resources (State of Organic Seed Report 2016). Farmer-driven plant breeding, coupled with local seed production and marketing, relocate control of seed in farmers’ hands. This project engages Minnesota vegetable producers in demonstration, experimentation and education on seed production and marketing, with the goals of understanding which seed crops are practical to produce and market locally, and growing the community of skilled seed producers.
This project will assess the viability of commercial seed production of five economically important vegetable species on six partnering organic (certified and non) farms in Minnesota. The selected varieties were bred or successfully trialed on farms in the upper Midwest, but have not been evaluated for seed quality or economic feasibility. The project builds farmers’ capacity to produce high quality seeds though consultation with seed production experts and hands-on demonstration. The five farmer partners will use project results to launch a collaborative seed marketing enterprise led by project farmer-partner Zachary Paige.
1) Build farmers’ capacity to produce high-quality seed of regionally-adapted crops for commercial contracts and on-farm use
2) Build farmers capacity to track labor and inputs to inform future contract negotiations
3) Understand which seed crops are most practical for Minnesota farmers to produce through enterprise budgeting, on-farm observation of seed crops and seed quality testing
4) Develop farmers’ ability to grow and save seed of culturally important crops, particularly for farmers in ethnic and socially disadvantaged communities.
Educational & Outreach Activities
These include a conversation between Kitt Healy or Zach Paige and each of the participating growers about how seed production is going, what methods are being used, and which best practices might apply
On-farm demonstrations: 5
Five Minnesota farmers grew trial plots for seed production (2 crops each) on their farms.
Published press, articles etc: 1
Webinars, talks, presentations:3
Paige and Healy (along with Emily Reno) presented on an overview of seed economics and an introduction to enterprise budgets at the Sustainable Farming Association Conference February 8, 2020.
Healy coordinated a live-streamed and interactive panel discussion on Biennial Seed Production with Laurie McKenzie (OSA), Petra Page-Mann (Fruition Seeds) and Beth Corymb (Meadowlark Health Organics) at the Organic Seed Growers’ conference in February 14, 2020. This session was especially advertised to and call-in Q+A was made available for Midwestern seed growers. Session description: Producing biennial seed crops is challenging for seed growers in many climates. This workshop is designed to help seed growers gain confidence and skills in biennial seed crop production. A panel of presenters will dig into the details of handling specific crops in different climatic conditions while offering tips on storage, timing of planting, the optimum size, and protecting crops through winter. This session will combine a presentation format with group discussion at the end so participants can learn from others’ experiences.
Micaela Colley (OSA) coordinated a live-streamed and interactive panel discussion on Seed Economics with Karl Sutton (Fresh Roots Farm), Judy Owsowitz (Terrapin Farm), Steph Gaylor (Invincible Summer Farm), Beth Rasgorshek (Canyon Bounty Farm) and Winston Oakley (Highland Economics) at the Organic Seed Growers’ conference in February 15, 2020. This session was especially advertised to and call-in Q+A was made available for Midwestern seed growers. Session description: Seed growing holds immeasurable value – from the empowerment of adapting crops to thrive in a region to the urgent need for genetic and cultural preservation to the potential for increasing on-farm habitat. For many growers seed is a calling and makes agronomic sense in a diverse farming system, but the economics of seed must also be considered to ensure economic sustainability. This session will share tools developed by an agricultural economist working with farmers to track production costs and assess profitability. Panelists will include experienced and beginning seed producers across a range of crops, scales, geographies, and business models. Discussion will focus on how to use economic tools to make decisions in seed production and how these growers balance their assessment of the economic, environmental, and personal values of growing seed on farm. This moderated panel will include ample time for audience questions and honest exploration of the challenges and rewards of life as a seed grower.
Workshop/ Field Day: 1
North Circle Seeds hosted a field day, seed cleaning demonstration and seed growers’ meeting at their farm in Vergas, MN. Unfortunately, the day had to be rescheduled due to snow so did not overlap with SFA’s farm tours as originally intended. Only 4 growers were in attendance, but good plans and connections were made and we plan to re-do this event in 2020.
Other Educational Activities: 1
A series of three brief instructional videos about carrot and tomato seed production and cleaning (more forthcoming).
Number of farmers/ranchers who participated in education and outreach activities: 80
5 participating in growing seed demonstration plots on farms, 18 in attendance at SFA conference, 37 in attendance online and in person in biennials session at seed growers conference, 45 in attendance online and in person at Seed Economics session at seed growers’ conference.
Number of agricultural professionals who participated in educational activities:
7 total panelists at in sessions at the seed growers’ conference. Healy as project lead, consultant and presenter at SFA conference. Ryan Pesch as extension educator, field day participant and consultant on enterprise budget development. Emily Reno as co-presenter on local seeds market analysis.
Seed production knowledge
Seed cleaning knowledge
Awareness of economic opportunities in seed
Input tracking and enterprise budget creation
Thus far, our project has helped 5 farmers scale up seed production on their farms and build a collaborative network of seed producers in Minnesota. Our project has also introduced over 100 farmers to advanced concepts in biennial seed production and seed economics, which are important for growers interested in entering or increasing their work in commercial seed markets.
Agricultural sustainability depends on economic return, environmental health and social interconnectedness. Our project supports economic return by consulting with farmers on the creation of enterprise budgets for each seed crop that they produce, which can help them negotiate a fair rate for their seeds as they enter in to commercial contracts. Seed growing can be very satisfying, and potentially lucrative, but it is important for farmers to choose seed crops that will be economically viable for their farms. Our project is helping to generate information that will be useful to the farmers in the project and other farmers in the North Central Region interested in seed production.
Our project contributes to environmental health by working with organic (certified and not) farmers in organic production environments. Organic farmers depend on high quality, well-adapted organic seed to be successful. Regional seed companies can help ensure the availability of organic and regionally adapted seed, and support farmers’ long-term ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions. By helping to connect growers to a regional seed company our project helps ensure the long-term sustainability of environmentally conscious farming in the North Central Region.
Finally, our project is helping to build a network of seed producers in Minnesota and neighboring states. Farmers engaged in this project are sharing knowledge, equipment, seeds and best practices to support each other growing the supply of local seed. This type of network development is one important element of social sustainability in agriculture, since it creates a sense of fellowship and shared purpose among growers doing the courageous work of growing organic seed.
Please note that the videos and recorded webinars linked to in the “products” section may not all have the SARE logo on them. We are working to correct this. Thanks for your patience.