Southern Oregon is poised to become a nationally recognized organic vegetable seed growing region with at least fourteen farmers in the area are already selling commercial seed on contract for regional, national and international seed companies. While the climate of Southern Oregon is well-suited to seed production, growing seed is complex and challenging and requires significant training and education. The goal of this project has been to increase the number, capacity and success of organic vegetable seed producers in Southern Oregon in two ways; 1) through a comprehensive seed training program for both beginning and established farmers interested in growing seed and 2) conducting research on the barriers and challenges to developing a regional market for local seed producers.
The Seed Growers Training Cohort (now called “Growing Seed Agripreneurs”) is taking place at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, which is part of Oregon State University. Twelve individuals, many of whom own small farms, signed up for the course which held it’s first class on April 5th. The class is meeting weekly on Thursday evenings for 3 hours until October 18th. A 29-class curriculum was developed that covers the planning, field preparation, growing, harvesting and cleaning of seed crops. It includes 5 field trips to regional seed farms and collaborates with Rogue Farm Corps on several classes and additional field trips. In addition, the members of the cohort are helping to design and create seed trials on the Teaching Farm. One-third of an acre has already been prepared for planting and early seed crops are currently in the process of being planted.
Planning for the half-day class on seed harvesting and cleaning techniques open to anyone interested in seed production at the Teaching Farm in September 2018 has begun and four commercial seed growers will help teach the class and demonstrate their harvest and cleaning methods.
For the research into the barriers and challenges to developing a regional market for local seed producers, contact has been made with both seed producers and produce farmers (seed buyers) to solicit their opinions on the subject. After working to organize a gathering of farmers on the subject and encountering scheduling and commitment challenges, it was deemed more effective to solicit the information through individual phone calls. A formal survey for broader distribution is being developed and will be sent out soon.
Seed trials to compare the performance of local varieties next to commonly used varieties are planned and about to be planted. Both seed producers and produce farmers (seed buyers) contributed either seed or input on the varieties to include on the trials. Vegetable producers will be invited to attend two field days, in June and September of 2018, to compare the variety trials, sample the produce and discuss the results of the trials. Research findings will be used to problem-solve and determine ways to better connect local seed growers with regional fresh market producers. Results of the trials will be documented in a 2-page publication and distributed to regional producers, presented at three conferences and posted on two University websites.
This project will increase the number, capacity and success of organic vegetable seed producers in Southern Oregon through the following objectives:
- Train 10 beginning seed farmers through the Seed Growers Training Cohort, to be held at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center (SOREC) in Central Point Oregon on the 1 acre organic Teaching Farm. The Training Cohort will be seven months long and include the following componenets:
- 3 hours of weekly field hours, working alongside Seed Training Coodinator and other Cohort members. The 1 acre teaching farm will be planted out to approximately ten different vegetable seed crops, as well as seed variety trials. (April-October 2018)
- Monthly three-hour classes taught by Extension specialists on the following topics: Soil Fertility Management; Irrigation; Integrated Pest Management; Seed Breeding; and Business 101. Class instructors will provide publications and resources. (April-October 2018)
- Monthly tours of participating seed farmers including Seven Seeds Farm, Dancing Bear Farm, Wandering Fields, Wolf Gulch Farm and White Oak Farm. Tours will highlight the following seed production activities: Planting for Isolation between plant families; Rogueing off-types and Seed Selection; Seed Harvesting; Seed Cleaning and Threshing; Contracting with Seed Companies; and Breeding New Varieties. (April-October 2018)
- At the SOREC Teaching Farm, conduct one workshop demonstrating seed harvesting and cleaning techniques open to area seed producers and the public. 40 producers will attend. (September 2018)
- Develop local markets for Southern Oregon Seed Producers
- Contact 10 commercial vegetable producers to discover challenges and barriers to purchasing seed from regional seed producers.
- Survey 50 vegetable producers in Jackson, Josephine, Klamath and Douglas counties of Southern Oregon to discover challenges and barriers to purchasing seed from regional seed producers.
- At the Teaching Farm, trial seed varieties from five participating seed producers (chard from Seven Seeds Farm, corn from Lupin Knoll Farm, onions from Wolf Gulch Farm, parsnips from Wandering Fields, winter squash from Dancing Bear farm and lettuce from White Oak Farm) alongside the varieties most commonly used by Southern Oregon vegetable producers. Trialing will consist of planting 25 foot beds of four comparable varieties and compare plant vigor, disease pressure, and yields. (April-November 2018)
- Conduct two field days for 50 vegetable producers (100 total) in Jackson, Jospehine, Klamath and Douglas counties showcasing the variety trials during the late spring and early fall. (June 2018 and September 2018)
- Produce one-page publication detailing results from the trials which will be distributed to Southern Oregon producers and posted at the SOREC and Southern Oregon Seed Growers Association websites.
The research component of this project is to determine the barriers and challenges to developing a regional market for local seed producers. This is being done through recording the views and opinions of regional seed buyers on seed selection and purchasing. This is being accomplished through individual phone calls and an online survey.
In addition, a variety trial is being planted to compare the performance of local varieties next to commonly used varieties from national retailers. Input for varieties in the trial, for both the local and national entries, was solicited from local farmers through phone calls and emails.
Results are yet to be determined. A summary of seed buying preferences and the barriers to local seed use is awaiting input from more growers. The variety trials are currently being planted and will be ready to evaluate in mid-summer and fall.
Educational & Outreach Activities
The activities indicated above are mostly part of the “Growing Seed Agripreneurs” program at OSU SOREC which is a 29-week course for aspiring seed growers. Participants meet every Thursday evening for three hours for a lecture/discussion on seed production as well as hands-on time on the Teaching Farm learning and working in the seed and variety trial garden. The course its running from April 5th through October 18th.
12 people signed up and 10 have attended the first two classes. 8 own small farms and 1 is an ag professional.
In addition 5 seed producers and 5 produce farmer/seed buyers have been interviewed for the research component of this project.
The first two classes have been on 1) An overview of seed production and 2) Field and bed preparation. Both classes were well received and students offered positive verbal feedback. A formal evaluation has not been conducted yet as we are at the beginning of the 29-week course. The course goal is for students to report gaining significant knowledge and skills in seed crop production.
As the project has only finished it’s planning and preparation phase and is now entering it’s activities and outreach phase, it is too early to describe outcomes.
This project suffered an initial delay in starting activities due to a change in staffing but it is back on track and we have high expectations for strong outcomes.