Training Small Farmers for Commercial Seed Production while Exploring Profitability of Annual Vegetable Seed Crops in West Virginia

Project Overview

ONE21-403
Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2021: $16,996.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2022
Grant Recipient: West Virginia University
Region: Northeast
State: West Virginia
Project Leader:
Dr. Mehmet Oztan
West Virginia University

Commodities

  • Vegetables: beans, cucurbits, greens (leafy), greens (lettuces), peppers, tomatoes

Practices

  • Crop Production: high tunnels or hoop houses, irrigation, seed saving, water management
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, business planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, social networks, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    My position at WVU involves community-based projects, including working with farmers to enhance their sustainable farming practices. In 2020, I introduced the concept of contract-based commercial seed production to WV by working with two farms to grow seeds for the catalog of Two Seeds in a Pod (my farm in Reedsville, WV). This collaborative work generated $900 in total for the farmers; it also helped us replenish seed stock for 11 varieties in our catalog. In 2021, we will work with additional farmers in WV to have them grow seeds for more than 20 varieties for our catalog. I estimate that this collaboration will generate a total farmer income of over $6,000.

    In early 2021, I distributed an online survey to small farmers to assess their needs and to better understand their interest for growing seeds. 75% of 24 respondents expressed interest in growing seeds for commercial seed market; however,  they also said that they need educational support, network, and connections to pursue this economic opportunity.

    This project will help me give the partner farmers the training they need to evaluate seed yields and profitability of a variety of open-pollinated vegetable seed crops in field and tunnel growing conditions. I will assist the farmers with all aspects of growing high quality seeds such as dry and wet seed processing methods, maintaining high seed germination rates and seed quality, rouging (removing) plants with undesirable characteristics, crop isolation, hand-pollination, improving seed yields, and professionally packaging seeds for delivery and fulfilling seed contracts.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project aims to:

    • Train the partner farmers to grow and maintain selected seed crops of tomato, pepper, bean, squash, lettuce and arugula in open-field and tunnel conditions;
    • Train the partner farmers to produce high quality seeds that meet the minimum federal seed germination requirements and commercial seed standards;
    • Train the partner farmers to evaluate the seed yield of each crop for profitability;
    • Walk the partner farmers through the successful completion of commercial seed production contracts and development of seed enterprise budget;
    • Improve the productivity of the partner farmers and the economic viability of their farms through increasing land use by commercial seed production as a financial incentive;
    • Educate the partner farmers to steward regionally-adapted heirloom seed varieties, carry on the cultural and agricultural traditions associated with seeds, and engage other farmers in their network for growing seeds; and
    • Reach out to more small farmers, via workshops, visual materials, Zoom presentation, seed growers’ manual, and social media, who would be interested in growing seeds, to assess their needs and answer their questions.
    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.