Producing Organic Vegetable Seed

Final Report for SW04-115

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2004: $154,293.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Matthew Dillon
Organic Seed Alliance
Expand All

Project Information

Abstract:

The goal of the Producing “Organic Vegetable Seed – Farmer Education Project” was to familiarize producers with the fundamental skills necessary to grow quality vegetable seed crops. This was accomplished through a series of field days, three winter short courses, conference presentations, and the publication of three crop-specific seed production manuals. In total there were twenty outreach events over the course of the three years, reaching more than four hundred producers in Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. Workshops and manuals covered planning, economics, disease issues, fertility management, cultivation, irrigation, harvest, and post-harvest cleaning and handling. OSA staff identified experienced organic seed producers and worked with them as project partners to improve their existing practices, designing metrics around quality traits that were monitored and measured over the course of the project for improvements. Each producer-cooperator served in an educational capacity as well, hosting field days with OSA staff and regional Extension to provide inexperienced seed producers with hands-on information and in-field experience. New seed producers desiring additional assistance were matched with an experienced seed producer who provided mentoring via phone, email, and field visits.

Photos, publications, and field day materials were supplied to the Western SARE office and are available to others on request.

Project Objectives:
  • Establish a system of educating farmers in organic seed production by working with experienced producers, university specialists (University of Idaho, Washington State and Oregon State) and seed industry professionals (OSA).

    Train new seed farmers and increase the skills, attitudes and awareness of existing farmers in seed production in order to improve the quality and availability of organic vegetable seed.

    Create financial opportunities for farmers in a burgeoning and sustainable market.
    Strengthen a weak link in organic systems by bridging an information gap in practices of organic seed production.

Introduction:

The National Organic Program rule (Section 205.204) requires the use of organically grown seed except, “When an equivalent organically produced variety is not commercially available.” This exception is due to the lack of organic seed currently produced. Availability of organic seed is low in part because few seed companies have experience in organic production, as well as a corollary lack of organic farmers with the skills to grow quality seed crops. At present organic farmers continue to rely on the non-organic input of conventional seed. These farmers would benefit from seeds produced and selected under the environmental challenges of organic cropping systems. The development of an organic seed industry is an essential missing link, or information/resource gap, in the organic production chain. Organic Seed Alliance designed a participatory farmer-formal education system of organic seed production to address this need. Primary beneficiaries of this educational information are producers interested in growing seed for on-farm use as well as those who are seeking a high-value contract crop. Secondary beneficiaries are the hundreds of farmers who rely on quality organic seed.

A first step in the development of true “organic varieties” is the refinement of organic seed production techniques. These techniques are very different than in conventional production, with fewer “spray on” solutions and therefore a need for greater planning for prevention. For example: What are the preventative and prescriptive options for an organic seed producer when faced with disease during a crop’s reproductive phase (often disease pressures much different than those of the vegetative phase)? What irrigation or fertility practices are most conducive to high yielding and high quality seed crops? Seed companies and their seed producers lacked adequate answers to these questions.

In reviewing the literature on organic vegetable seed it becomes apparent that the vast majority of information available since the 1950s is not appropriate to the sustainable practices of organic agriculture. Much of this information, whether Extension-based or published by the seed industry, was geared toward larger commercial production and provided little benefit for producers interested in growing seed for on-farm usage or smaller commercial contracts, as is often the case within organic farming. There is a nonprofessional body of literature focused on “heirlooms” and “seed saving” that is scaled to the home gardener, but this literature does not provide adequate information on disease issues, plant population size for genetic maintenance, or on scale-specific production and handling and so fails to meet the needs of organic producers who have need for higher quality seed and larger volumes than that of gardeners. Likewise we found scant research examining specific challenges and solutions to seed production in organic systems. Recent SARE projects in other regions have begun to address this need, but as the challenges are often very region specific, no such information is available for farmers in the western states. The western U.S. is the major producer of vegetable seed crops, providing seed not only for U.S. markets but throughout the world. The states targeted in this project – Washington, Oregon and Idaho – are premier areas for vegetable seed production, supplying 70% of the U.S. supply of beet, cabbage and spinach seed, 60% of radish seed, and more than half the supply of carrot and onion seed.

References:
Almekinders, C.J.M. and N.P. Louwaars. 1999. Farmers’ Seed Production. Intermediate Technology Publications, Ltd. London.

Ashworth, S. 2002. Seed to Seed, 2nd Ed. Seed Saver’s Exchange, Inc. Decorah Iowa.

George, R.A.T. 1999. Vegetable Seed Production, 2nd Ed. CABI Publishing, Oxen, U.K.

Jahn, M, E. Nega, and S. Warner. 2000. Pathogenic fungi on vegetable seed: tolerance and effects of hot water treatment. Gemuse-Munchen 36:17-21.

Keiser, P. 1997. The economics of seed saving on three biological farms in Western Michigan. SARE (#FNC 97-189).

Lawn, C.R. 2002. Restoring our seed. SARE (#LNE 02-160).

McDonald, M.B. And L.O. Copeland. 1997. Seed Production: principles and practices. Chapman and Hall, New York.

Rakita, G. 2000. Marketing O.P. Garden seed as an alternative crop. SARE (#FS 00-124).

Thomas J. (Original Authors – Jones, L.J. and C.R. Foss). 2005. Seed Crop Profiles Revised. Washington State University Cooperative Extension. Pub No. MISC0357E.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Fred Brossy
  • Scott Chichester
  • John Navazio
  • Don Tipping

Research

Materials and methods:

Our educational emphasis was on vegetable seed crops that are economically important and are well adapted to each region’s environment. We worked with private farms of experienced seed producers. Our initial Participant-Producers and their seed crop were: 1) Fred Brossy, Bryant Ranch, Idaho (green bean), 2) Scott Chichester, Nash’s Organic Produce, Washington (spinach), and 3) Don Tipping, Seven Seeds Farm, Oregon (radish). For each of the sites/crops we worked to improve performance parameters through changes in cultivation practices, host field days on seed production, and publish a crop specific production manual.

Although each site focused on a single seed crop, all of the sites had other seed crops in production as well as some non-seed crops that demonstrated their interaction and integration of seed into a whole farm system. We worked with self-pollinated, cross-pollinated, and dioecious crops in order to represent three distinct reproductive classes. For each of the focus crops the producers selected one quality trait (such as stand establishment, seed yield, seed quality, trueness to type, disease incidence, and profitability) to be measured and improved over the course of the project (performance parameters). The overall project team assessed these quality traits and made suggestions for improvements via changes in production practices. Participant-producers monitored and logged the shift in their crops performance parameters.

Field days were designed by cooperating producers with OSA, and taught by the producers, OSA, and regional specialist cooperators from Extension and industry. Regional specialists brought expertise in vegetable seed pathology, plant breeding, genetics, soil health, seed cleaning/conditioning, and economics/marketing. Field days were designed for early season and harvest season. Early summer field days focused on: 1) cultivation practices (spacing, irrigation, fertility management, etc.), 2) crop challenges (nutrients, disease, climate, etc.), 3) disease identification/prevention/treatment, and 4) crop selection criteria and practice. Late summer focus included: 1) gauging maturity; 2) roguing for reproductive fitness, 3) crop harvest, 4) cleaning and conditioning, and 5) yield and quality analysis. Reproductive biology as related to seed production, economics and marketing were addressed at all field days. Field days occurred in years one and two (twelve total).

In the second and third years we worked with new seed farmers who attended first year field days, assisting them in the integration of information and new skills learned. Mentoring was conducted by experienced seed producers. Winter Workshops in each of the states held in the final year provided an opportunity for farmers to have more in-depth classroom learning on genetics, disease, marketing, and other production issues as well as time for farmer-to-farmer interaction. Seed crop production manuals were distributed at these events, are available at our website for download, and were distributed via Extension partners.

A change in our methodology was necessary. Participant-producer Fred Brossy was unable to complete the full three years of the project due to a family illness and death. Given this situation the tracking of performance parameters at the Bryant Ranch site did not occur. We substituted other seed producers and sites to fill this place in order to fulfill our field days, and we did produce a green bean seed manual as planned and conducted a winter workshop in Idaho with Fred‘s assistance. Producers, farm sites, and seed crops added to replace Fred and Bryant Ranch were: 1) Frank Morton and John Eveland, Gathering Together Farm, Oregon (lettuce seed); 2) Joel Reiten, Bejo Research Farm, Oregon (onion seed); and 3) Bill Reynolds, Eel River Produce, California (zucchini seed).

Research results and discussion:

At the time that this project was funded (2004) the Western SARE R&E call for proposals did not require as strong an emphasis on research as in 2007. This project was much more focused on educational outreach (as suggested in the title “Farmer Education Project”) and improving producers’ production skills than on pure research. That said, performance parameters for two of the seed crops were measured. In the case of radish the producer (Don Tipping) chose purity of varietal type (ideotype) for his quality trait as he was working on several high-value stock seed production contracts. For spinach, the producer (Scott Chichester) wanted to reduce the incidence of seed borne disease he was finding on his crop. Both producers had strong success in improving these traits based on the guidance and assistance of the project team.

A) Quantitative and Qualitative Assessments and Summary for RP1 Radish

Roots were evaluated and selected for ideotype at Seven Seeds in 2004 and 2005. The seed company working with Seven Seeds planted field trials in 2006 to verify improvements in variety ideotype. Five evaluation traits were assessed. The producer and project team evaluated the variety for offtypes by trait, and recorded the percentage of stecklings (first year roots) with off-types. Stecklings were then selected for improvements. The variety’s name was kept confidential based on the terms of the seed producer and seed company contract. It was therefore referred to as RP1.
Number of roots evaluated in 2004 and 2005: 10,000
Number stecklings transplanted as acceptable ideotypes to be increased into stock seed: 1,000

Radish Evaluation Traits Year One (2004)
1. Overall Root Shapes: round, top, ovoid, heart and elongated
Round (ideal): 20% of population (with 50% as variants that were rogued out)
Toy Top (broad shoulders narrowing at base): 35%
Ovoid (egg shaped): 15%
Heart (sunken crown): 20%
Elongated (French Breakfast type): 10%
2. Taproot
– 45+% normal (ideal)
– 50% rat tail
– <5% sprangles (main tap root has preponderance of large lateral secondary roots)
3. Color
Purple Violet (ideal): 85+%
Light Violet: 10%
Red: <5%
White: <1%
Pink: <1%
4.Leaf
Height
Tall at 6-8” (ideal): 85%
Intermediate at 4-6”: 10+%
Short at less than 4”: <5%
Shape
– Strap Leaf: 90+%
5.Disease – no notable presence

Year Two (2005)
1. Overall Root Shapes: round, top, ovoid, heart and elongated
Round (ideal): 65% of population
Toy Top (broad shoulders narrowing at base): 10%
Ovoid (egg shaped): 10%
Heart (sunken crown): under 5%
Elongated (French Breakfast type): 10%
2. Taproot
– 60% normal (ideal)
– 35% rat tail
– <5% sprangles (main tap root has preponderance of large lateral secondary roots)
3. Color
Purple Violet (ideal): 90+%
Light Violet: 5%
Red: <5%
White: <1%
Pink: <1%
4. Leaf
Height
Tall at 6-8” (ideal): 95%
Intermediate at 4-6”: <5%
Short at less than 4”: <1%
Shape
– Strap Leaf: 90+%
5. Disease – no notable presence

Year Three (final evaluation)
1. Overall Root Shapes: round, top, ovoid, heart and elongated
Round (ideal): 95% of population
Toy Top (broad shoulders narrowing at base): <2%
Ovoid (egg shaped): <2%
Heart (sunken crown): <2%
Elongated (French Breakfast type): <2%
2. Taproot
– 90% normal (ideal)
– 10% rat tail
– <1% sprangles (main tap root has preponderance of large lateral secondary roots)
3. Color
Purple Violet (ideal): 95+%
Light Violet: <5%
Red: <1%
White: 0%
Pink: <1%
4. Leaf
Height
Tall at 6-8” (ideal): 95%
Intermediate at 4-6”: <5%
Short at less than 4”: <1%
Shape
– Strap Leaf: 95+%
5. Disease – no notable presence

Summary
Roots were selected each year in May 32 days after initial planting. A crew of six people made three passes over the 10,000 initial roots for a final transplanting of 1,000 stecklings. OSA staff Navazio and Dillon assisted producer Tipping in the monitoring of selected stecklings. Transplant for seed production occurred immediately following selection. Prior to transplant the tops were clipped back to 0.25 inch from the crown in order to minimize excessive respiration and transplant shock. The ideotype of RP1 is described as a globed, purple-violet root of approximately 1.25” in diameter. The root has a well-defined and sleek taproot with minimal taper. The plants have 6-8” tall strap leaf tops (some variance with season and environment). Stock seed was selected for this ideotype. The largest category of off-types occurred within the root shape trait with a full 80% of the roots having less than ideal types in year one. The taproot form also showed a strong degree of off-types with slightly more than 50% as rat tailed and/or sprangled (many ‘hairy’ secondary roots running lateral off of the taproot). Color was highly uniform as was leaf height and shape. With two years of selection considerable improvements, 90% or greater of ideal, was noted in each category.

B) Reducing Seed Borne Disease in Spinach – seed treatments and preventative practices
OSA staff and Extension partners worked with Scott Chichester of Nash’s Organic Produce to monitor and improve the incidence of disease in their spinach seed production. Extension partner, Dr. Lindsey du Toit (WSU Mt Vernon) served as a subcontractor in the role of seed pathologist. Dr. du Toit completed assays of the Nash Spinach in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Her lab used a freeze-blotter seed health assay in which 400 seeds were plated onto sterile moist blotter paper in Petri dishes. The seed were then incubated in the dark at 24ºC for 24 hours to allow the seed to imbibe, transferred to –20ºC for 24 hours to kill the embryos, and returned to 24ºC for 12 to 13 days with a 12 hour/12 hour day/night cycle. The seed were examined microscopically at 5-6, 8-10, and 14 days after plating, for development of fungi. The seed assay was repeated using a surface-sterilized step of 60 seconds of soaking in 1.2% NaOCl, followed by a triple-rinse in sterile de-ionized water to remove the chlorine, followed in turn by the plating and freezing procedure described above. Running both the surface-sterilized and non-sterilized protocols allowed differentiation between inoculum present within the pericarps and embryos vs. inoculum present on the surface of the seed.

2004 tests indicated the presence of Stemphylium botryosum, Cladosporium variabile, and other Cladosporium spp. Cladosporium variabile (rather than the “other” Cladosporium ) is the causal agent of Cladosporium leaf spot of spinach and Stemphylium botryosum is the causal agent of Stemphylium leaf spot of spinach. Although the incidences were low on the initial 2004 seed lot, the cool and moist winter/early spring conditions probably favored seed transmission and development of Cladosporium leaf spot in the plant population, which the farmer reported seeing in “a majority of the plants” in 2004.

OSA staff made recommendations to Chichester to reduce risk of disease. A switch from fall to spring planting was the major recommendation. He had been fall planting/overwintering in order to get strong early growth and large-framed plants. Orienting rows in the direction of the prevailing wind, increasing spacing of plants within and between rows, to increase air circulation and reduce humidity also reduces risk by minimizing moisture on leaves. Dr. du Toit also suggested that it is important to incorporate residues and any volunteer spinach into the soil after harvest, to minimize opportunities for the fungi to persist on volunteers or on spinach residues that remain on the soil surface. In addition to these preventative measures, we taught the producer a hot water treatment technique (provided by du Toit) to kill existing pathogens. This is very important as there are very few certified organic applications to treat seed disease. Hot water treatments are USDA approved; however, we caution that producers do careful study guidelines for this treatment as there is risk of damaging the seed. Guidelines are on the OSA web site (www.seedalliance.org) on our publications page.

2005 testing showed 31.6% of the seed infected with Cladosporium variabile and 3.3% with Stemphylium botryosum. The Cladosporium variabile was therefore of the most concern. A hot water treatment reduced detectable presence to 0% (+/-5% standard deviation). Treatment procedures followed methods identified as most effective by Dr. du Toit in previous studies (unpublished data). 2006 testing, with the farmer planting treated seed under new cultivation recommendations, resulted in 0% of the seed infected with Cladosporium variabile, and 5.8% (+/-3%) with Stemphylium botryosum.

While there is not enough data to make a detailed analysis, we can report anecdotally that changes in practice and seed treatments in hot water resulted in a decreased incident of disease in laboratory testing and decreased visual leaf spot incidence in the field.

Research conclusions:

This project was designed to strengthen a weak link in organics by bridging an information gap in the methodology of organic seed production, familiarizing organic and transitional producers with the fundamental agricultural skills necessary in growing quality vegetable seeds such as fertility management, cultivation, irrigation scheduling, and harvesting. We more than met our goals in terms of farmer attendance at outreach events and in terms of crop production manual dissemination. OUTREACH and FARMER ADOPTION sections have attendance numbers, publication dissemination, evaluation information, and follow-up with a sampling of participants. Many producers attended outreach events in all three years, often coming to more than one event per year. Through evaluations, follow-up calls to participants, and our continued work with many of these producers we have received feedback that producers are integrating this information into practice.

Members of the seed industry sent representatives and many of their growers to events and have requested that we continue with this type of educational outreach. The project resulted in numerous new partnerships and collaborations, both between private-public and public-public. Examples of new projects that were launched from this three year project include: Seed Producer Database, Organic Seed Short Course Development for Agricultural Professionals, Weather-Related Risk Reduction Guidelines, Breeding Spinach for Organic Systems, and On-Farm Variety Trial Guidelines and Workshops. All of these projects bring continued benefit to organic producers and help improve the overall integrity and sustainability of organic agricultural systems. Industry reports show that sale of organic seed has more than doubled in a three year period, and we believe that these workshops have helped power that momentum.

In addition to the producers reached at field days and workshops, 21 producers in five states received direct mentoring from our project team. These producers were either new to seed production, or in early years of incorporation into their cropping systems. They received assistance on issues such as increasing germination rate of seed crops, assessing seed maturity for ideal harvest, efficiencies in seed cleaning, and appropriate timing of crops to avoid weather related risks. This direct farmer-to-farmer connection has helped these new producers have greater success as they develop their seed enterprises.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

A total of 1,416 publications (of three types) were disseminated. All publications reviewed by a minimum of three producers and three agricultural professionals per OSA internal standards. The publications include:

Principles and Practices of Organic Spinach Seed Production in the Northwest. 12 Pages. Authored by Dr. John Navazio, Micaela Colley, Matthew Dillon (Organic Seed Alliance) and reviewed by Scott Chichester (producer), Woody Deryckx (producer), Frank Morton (producer), Dr. Lindsey du Toit (Washington State University), Dr. Ken Johnson (Oregon State University), Steve Peters (Seeds of Change).
http://www.seedalliance.org/uploads/pdf/SpinachSeedManual.pdf

Principles and Practices of Organic Bean Seed Production in the Northwest. 12 Pages. Authored by Dr. John Navazio, Micaela Colley, Matthew Dillon (Organic Seed Alliance) and reviewed by Fred Brossy (producer), Nash Huber (producer), Beth Rasgorshek (producer), Diane Greene (producer), Dr. Howard Schwartz (Colorado State University), Dr. James Myers (Oregon State University), Dr. Ken Johnson (Oregon State University), and Dr. S. Krishna Mohan (University of Idaho).
http://www.seedalliance.org/uploads/pdf/BeanSeedManual.pdf

Principles and Practices of Organic Radish Seed Production in the Northwest. 12 Pages. Authored by Dr. John Navazio, Micaela Colley, Matthew Dillon (Organic Seed Alliance) and reviewed by Don Tipping (producer), Nash Huber (producer), Maud Powell (producer), Dr. Lindsey du Toit (Washington State University), Dr. Ken Johnson (Oregon State University), Emily Gatch (Seeds of Change), Joel Reiten (Bejo Seeds).
http://www.seedalliance.org/uploads/pdf/RadishSeedManual.pdf

Printed and mailed or distributed at field days:
spinach: 128
bean: 116
radish: 172
Total: 416

Manuals downloaded from OSA website:
spinach: 518
bean: 502
radish: 406
Total: 1,426

Total print copies and downloads
spinach: 646
bean: 618
radish: 578
Total: 1,842

Outreach/Presentations – We far surpassed our projected size of audience and number of events. As word of the project spread, OSA staff and participant-producers were invited to give workshops and presentations at a number of agricultural conferences throughout the region. Not counting these outside conferences (we were not provided with participant numbers by conference hosts), we presented this Western SARE project information to 188 producers at field days and workshops (134 distinct producers, many attended more than one field day), and to an additional 108 at the Organic Seed Alliance biennial conference. We estimate that over 200 other producers received this information at the four non-OSA conferences. Both OSA outreach events and those outside conferences are listed below with summary of outreach.

1)March 23, 2005: 1st Spinach Seed Field Day at Nash’s Organic in Dungeness, Washington
Number of participants: 42
– 37 farmers, 28 with some seed experience and 9 with no experience. Attending from Washington, Oregon and British Columbia
– 5 non-farmers (WSU extension staff, seed company reps, and WSU Master Gardeners)
Overview: Participants attended morning class on seed cultivation basics, farm history of seed production and economics. They spent afternoon in field where they helped identify disease, learned how to select for ideotypes (roguing for off-types), watched cultivation techniques for appropriate spacing and weeding, and discussed fertility issues. The day included a presentation from Steve Peters, Manager of Seed Production at Seeds of Change (Santa Fe, New Mexico) on “Seed producer skills from a seed company perspective”
2)May 20, 2005: Radish Seed Field Day at Seven Seeds Farm in Williams, Oregon
Number of participants: 25
– 22 farmers, 12 with some seed experience and 10 with no experience.
– 3 non-farmers (representatives from 3 seed companies)
Cooperator-Producer Don Tipping created a “Seed Productivity Chart” detailing the varying crop types and vareities that have been grown on farm, area in production per crop, yield, and productivity (yield/row ft). The chart went back through the 1999 season.
Joel Reiten of Bejo Seed presented on “Seed Quality from a Commercial Perspective”
Overview: Participants attended morning class on seed cultivation basics, farm history of seed production and economics. They spent afternoon in field where they helped identify disease and pests, learned how to select for ideotypes (roguing for off-types), watched cultivation techniques for appropriate spacing, weeding and transplanting roots after selection. In order to demonstrate selection, the group pulled roots. Ideotypes were discussed and identified and selection occurred, roguing out plants that were showed poor phenotype of root form and color and leaf tops. Transplanting techniques and appropriate spacing were then demonstrated.
Performance parameters: Producers determined that measurable criteria for a improvement during three years should be improving the ideotype (roguing off-types) and yield performance based on differing planting dates.
3)July 21, 2005: 2nd Spinach Seed Field Day at Nash’s Organic in Dungeness, Washington (Scott Chichester as Producer-Cooperator )
Number of participants: 29
– Returning participants from 1st field day: 9
– Producers: 26 (18 with some seed experience/8 with none)
– Seed company reps: 3
Field presentation on spacing during period of bolting and seed set, seed harvest and cleaning techniques.
Dr. Lindsey du Toit, vegetable seed pathologist at Washington State University/Mt Vernon, gave a three-hour classroom PowerPoint presentation on the seed disease basics for dry seeded crops including favorable disease conditions, green bridges, disease assessment, prevention, and treatment. All producers were provided with a very intensive seed disease guide including color photos of leaf and root diseases of vegetable seed crops. du Toit also reported on the seed assay that she conducted from the producers 2004 spinach seed crop.
4)July 27, 2005: Bean Seed Field Day at Bryant Ranch in Shoshone, Idaho
Number of participants: 33
– Producers: 25 (19 experienced/6 non)
– Seed Company Reps: 3
– University and/or State Seed Foundation staff: 5
Overview: Participants attended morning class on seed cultivation basics, farm history of seed production, and economics.
History and background of bean genetics presented by bean breeders Dr. Jim Myers of Oregon State University and Dr. Shree Singh of University of Idaho.
Presentation and field practicum on selection by Dr. Kathy Stewart Williams from Idaho Foundation Seed Program.
Presentation from Steve Peters, Manager of Seed Production at Seeds of Change (Santa Fe, New Mexico) on “Seed producer skills from a seed company perspective”
Bean crops will be monitored for yield and off-types during course of project.
5)November 12, 2005 – Montana Organic Conference (Billings). Sixty-two producers attended a session presented by Dillon on “Growing Organic Vegetable Seed for Commercial Contract and On-farm Use”
6)January 11, 2006: Organic Seed Growers Conference. Participant-Producer Don Tipping presented on “Whole System Seed Growing: Integrating Seed Production with CSA, Market Farming, Economics and Animal Husbandry”.108 producers and 77 agricultural professionals in attendance.
7)January 12, 2006: Organic Seed Growers Conference. Producers Huber and Brossy co-presented “Seed Economics: The Value of Seed Production on a Diverse Organic Farm”. 108 producers and 77 agricultural professionals in attendance.
8)January 12, 2006: Organic Seed Growers Conference.OSA’s Navazio presented on “Environmental Factors for Selecting Seed Crop Production Sites”. 108 producers and 77 agricultural professionals in attendance.
9)January 26-27, 2006 – EcoFarm (Monterey, California). Over 50 producers attended session by Chichester, Huber, and Dillon on “Benefits and Potential of Organic Seed Production”.
10)February 24-25, 2006 – New Mexico Organic Commodity Commission Conference (Albuquerque). Over 40 producers attended session by Colley on “Organic Seed Production, What You Need to Know”.
11)May 23, 2006: Spinach Seed Field Day at Nash’s Organic in Dungeness, Washington (Scott Chichester and Nash Huber as producer-cooperators)
Number of participants 29
– 19 farmers, 11 with some seed experience
– 10 agricultural professionals from Washington State University, Oregon State University, and seed industry
Classroom session presentations:
– overview of year one (Micaela Colley, OSA)
– producer’s seed history and goals (Scott Chichester, producer)
– OSU Seed Resource Guide (Dr. Alex Stone, OSU)
– spinach disease implications, field ID, management practices (Dr. Lindsey DuToit, WSU)
– seed contracts (Steve Peters, Seeds of Change)
Field Session:
– spinach biology: life cycle, flowering, and fertilization (Dr. John Navazio, OSA)
– spinach seed cultivation practices (Chichester)
– Roguing (Navazio)
– Harvest, cleaning and conditioning (Chichester)
– Weather related risk management (Colley and Chichester)
Improvements for producer-cooperator: In year one producer determined that incidence of diseases (Cladosporium variable and Stemphylium botyrosum) and off-types were the two improvement criteria to measure over the course of 3 years. Data was taken on each. OSA made recommendations for changes in production practices and based on these the producer made changes in year two planting dates and spacing to lower incidence of disease, and roguing practices to reduce off-types. Data was again taken and comparisons made to year one. Percentage change in off-types will be measured in the final year. Disease incidence appeared lower in the field in year two and seed samples from 2006 harvest were taken by WSU pathology team to compare to the previous year’s harvest (both diseases are seed borne) and is currently being assessed. Data to be reported in final year.
12)May 25, 2006: Radish Seed Field Day at Seven Seeds Farm in Williams, Oregon (Don Tipping as Producer-Cooperator)
Number of participants: 27
– 22 farmers, 16 with some seed experience
– 5 agricultural professionals from OSU and seed industry
Classroom session presentations:
– overview of year one (Micaela Colley, OSA)
– producer’s seed history and goals (Don Tipping, producer)
– disease management and testing (Emily Gatch, Seeds of Change)
– seed contracts (Joel Reiten, Bejo Seeds)
– stock seed production (Don Tipping, producer)
Field session:
– farm tour, integrating seed into a diverse farm (Tipping)
– radish biology: life cycle, flowering, and fertilization (Dr. John Navazio, OSA)
– radish seed cultivation (Tipping, Reiten)
– selection and roguing (Tipping, Navazio, Reiten)
13)July 17, 2006: Lettuce and Brassica Seed Production at Gathering Together Farm, Philomath, Oregon (Frank Morton and John Eveland as cooperating producers)
Number of participants: 63
– 31 producers; 19 with seed experience
– 32 agricultural professionals from Washington State University, Oregon State University, Oregon State Department of Agriculture, Oregon Tilth, and seed industry
All sessions in the field:
– history/ overview of project, introductions, handouts (Micaela Colley, OSA)
– OSU Specialty Seed Resource Guide (Alex Stone, OSU)
– farm background, breeding goals, challenges (Frank Morton)
– overview of lettuce and brassica seed production (Morton)
– variety trialing and stock seed development (Erica Renaud, Seeds of Change)
– disease management and identification – (Ken Johnson and Alex Stone, OSU)
– Brassica and lettuce seed harvest and cleaning (Morton)
– weather related risk management (Morton)
Improvements: Gathering Together Farm was a new site in 2006, filling one of the two slots from the Shoshone, Idaho producer-cooperator Fred Brossy (who had a severe family illness and death). As such there were no comparisons to year one.
14)August 22, 2006: Mixed vegetable seed crops at Eel River Farm, Shively, CA (Bill Reynolds as cooperating producer)
22 participants:
– 17 producers, 10 with seed experience
– 5 agricultural professionals from University of California-Davis and seed industry
Field session:
– overview of previous field days, basics of spinach, radish, lettuce and brassica seed production (Colley and Navazio)
– integrating seed production into diverse fresh market farm (Bill Reynolds)
– crop improvement for organics (Navazio)
– zucchini seed production (Reynolds and Navazio)
– seed harvesting (Reynolds)
– weather related risk management (Colley and Reynolds)
Improvements: This site was also a new field day site replacing Idaho field day. Producers in attendance will be contacted in year three to find out how many took on increased seed production or had quality improvements.
15)September 9, 2006: Radish and Mixed Vegetable Seed at Seven Seeds Farm, Williams, Oregon (Don Tipping as producer-cooperator)
31 participants:
– 23 producers, 16 with seed experience
– 7 agricultural professionals from OSU, Oregon Tilth, and seed industry
Field session:
– overview of previous field days at Seven Seeds, basics of radish, lettuce and Brassica seed production (Tipping)
– integrating seed production into diverse fresh market farm (Tipping)
– seed economics (Tipping and Reiten)
– seed cleaning (Tipping and Reiten_
– seed quality (Emily Skelton, Seeds of Change)
– weather related risk management (Reiten)
16)September 20, 2006: Onion Seed Production at Bejo Research Farm, Cottage Grove, Oregon (Joel Reiten as cooperator)
Number of participants: 42
– 20 producers; 14 with seed experience, 6 with no seed experience
– 22 agricultural professionals from Oregon State University, Oregon Tilth, and seed industry
Presentations included:
– project overview and goals (Micaela Colley, Organic Seed Alliance)
– overview of onion seed production – seed to seed vs bulb to seed, cultural practices, environmental factors, ideal climate, disease issues (Reiten)
– disease prevention and protective measures for organic seed (Ken Johnson, OSU and Reiten)
– weather related risk reduction (Frank Morton, Wild Garden Seed)
– onion basics: day-lengths and types
– onion grading for off-types
– field identification of onion disease
– seed harvest, drying and threshing
Improvements: This was a new site for the second year, taking the second session slot for spinach at Nash Huber’s. Participants will be contacted as a part of the year three reporting to determine changes made in production and crop quality or economic improvements.
17) November 15-16, 2006 ·Williams, Oregon. Winter Intensive Workshop. Workshop presentations included a summary of the 2005-2006 Organic Seed Field Days, presentation of the new OSA Organic Radish Seed Production Manual, information about growing specific seed crops in Southern Oregon, record keeping and economics of seed production. 28 participants.
18)November 30, 2006 ·Lynwood, Washington. Micaela Colley and Nash Huber presented on seed production potential for small producers in western Washington.
19)January 8-9, 2007 · Kimberly, Idaho. Winter Intensive Workshop. Workshop topics included an overview of the field days and seed education projects; technical information on bean, carrot and onion seed production; information on seed certification in Idaho; breeding beans for low-input systems; and first-hand stories from experienced organic seed producers. 22 participants.
20)February 8-9, 2007 · Mount Vernon, Washington. Winter Intensive Workshop. Workshop presentations focused on organic spinach seed production and include an overview of the 2005-2006 Organic Seed Field Days; presentation of the new OSA Organic Spinach Seed Production Manual; organic weed and fertility managment; discussions of the growth and opportunities in the organic seed market; new research on organic seed treatments; and factors that favor transmission of seed-borne disease. The workshop held at the WSU Extension facility. 42 participants.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

First-time seed production for a producer can vary greatly in cost and gross/net earnings depending on crop type, variety, scale of production, usage (commercial or on-farm), and existing or new equipment needs. Rather than reduce this complexity to incomplete and potentially misleading generalizations about cost, producers were supplied with an enterprise budget template and walked through that process at each field day. Seed industry representatives from Seeds of Change (US) and Bejo Seeds (Holland) shared examples of producer costs including land, labor, soil amendments, irrigation, certification fees, equipment, and any indirect costs. Examples of commercial contracts were supplied along with per pound and per acre prices paid for commercial quality crops. Participant-producers shared their yields per acre or row foot. New producers were taught the skills to track expenses, yield, and profit.

Farmer Adoption

Producers attending the outreach events were asked about their previous experience in seed production (if any), their previous practices, and how the information presented would change their practices or bring about new seed crop production. 100% of the producers responded that they had received information that was new to them and that they would put into practice. Of non-seed producers, 45% said they would plant seed crops for on-farm use and 40% felt they would explore commercial contracts in the future. On evaluation forms producers were asked if we could contact them in year three to discuss changes in practices. We selected a producer from each of the representative states and asked if they had increased seed production (acreage) on their farms; if they had improved their economic gain from seed crops; if they had made changes to their cultural practices that resulted in improvements to their crops or minimized their risk. All producers contacted reported positively in these areas. One report stood out. A Washington producer transitioning from not having grown seed crops had over 60% of his income coming from seed within three years. He said he had been an organic producer for almost thirty years, and felt that seed was the natural extension of his years of learning about cropping systems. In addition to production he was also hired by commercial seed companies on contract to visit other seed producers and assist in crop maintenance. The mentor outreach created farmer-to-farmer relationships that resulted in direct adaptation of the educational materials.

While vegetable seed crops are a potentially lucrative specialty crop, with values reaching as high as $14,000/acre, producers need highly specialized skills to grow a quality crop and return a profit. The refinement of organic seed practices takes years of work. The producers with whom we worked over the last three years are hungry for ongoing education, as shown by attendance at the Organic Seed Growers Conference and subscriptions to our online educational announcements. Organic agriculture is taking a new approach to seed systems, one that is less centralized and more regional than its conventional counterpart. Projects such as this provide farmers with the skills to invest in regional seed systems. Organic Seed Alliance continues to work with and support dozens of producers who we contacted via this project.

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

We asked all producers and project partners for input as to additional education, research, and marketing needed in organic seed cropping systems. From this input we developed proposals, some of which have been funded including the Seed Producer Database. Breeding for organic agriculture including for season extension, nutrition, drought resistance, nutrient uptake for low input systems, and for disease resistance was by far the most common need expressed by the producers. This may be due to the fact that many of these producers were primarily fresh market producers – the end users of seed – as opposed to being solely seed producers. Nonetheless, this response indicated that there continues to be a lack of varieties that meet the needs of organic producers. Second to breeding was a stated need for additional crop specific production manuals. Research into disease prevention and transitioning from conventional seed to organic were also recognized. From our internal perspective, the creation of additional crop production manuals is the natural continuation of this project along with conducting field days specific to those crops. We are also exploring the feasibility of regional seed cooperatives, and the creation of a new model of participatory plant breeding for organic systems with a high level of farmer leadership.

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.