Training Seed Producers and Increasing Local Markets for Seed Production

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2017: $49,750.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2019
Grant Recipient: Oregon State University
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Principal Investigator:
Maud Powell
OSU Extension


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: crop improvement and selection, plant breeding and genetics, seed saving
  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, extension, farmer to farmer, focus group, mentoring, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture

    Proposal abstract:

    Southern Oregon is poised to become a nationally recognized organic vegetable seed growing region. At least fourteen farmers in the area
    are already selling commercial seed on contract for regional, national and international seed companies. The area is home to two small seed
    companies, Restoration Seeds and Siskiyou Seeds. The climate and topography of Southern Oregon are well-suited for seed production,
    with typically dry summers and autumns for seed ripening, drying and storage. The area''s two local mountain ranges are characterized by
    many small, isolated valleys, which are ideal for planting seed varieties that readily outcross. Additionally, in 2014, Jackson and Josephine
    county residents passed county-wide ballot measures that ban the production of genetically-engineered (GE) crops. Only three other
    counties in the entire United States have upheld such a ban. The pollen of crops including corn, beets, and chard can travel over a mile,
    which means that GE-free seeds are becoming increasingly difficult to source. Meanwhile, the demand for organic produce continues to
    increase and the National Organic Program has a very low tolerance for GE in seed that is used to produce certified organic crops. Southern
    Oregon represents one of only a handful of "organic seed sanctuaries" around the country that can reliably produce seed that is GE-free.
    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 is to increase the number, capacity and success of organic vegetable seed producers in Southern Oregon in two ways.
    First, the project addresses the need for a comprehensive seed training program for both beginning and established farmers interested in
    growing seed. The Seed Growers Training Cohort will take place at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, which is part of
    Oregon State University. The training program is innovative and unique in both its nature and design. A number of producers and
    Universities offer "seed schools" which are typically 5-7 days in length and located on farms. The Organic Seed Alliance offers an online,
    season long seed training program for beginning farmers. As far as we know, there are no University-based, season-long, hands-on seed
    production training programs in the United States. Additionally, the program uses a combination of University research and faculty
    expertise with the applied knowledge and experience of successful, commercial organic seed growers. The fifteen members of the Cohort
    will attend five classes taught by OSU faculty and work alongside the Cohort mentor every week, while also attending monthly tours of
    exisiting seed farms. Members of the cohort will also help to design and create seed trials on the Teaching Farm. Finally, the Seed Mentor
    will host a half-day class on seed harvesting and cleaning techniques open to anyone interested in seed production at the Teaching Farm in
    September 2018. Four commercial seed growers will help teach the class and demonstrate their harvest and cleaning methods.
    Second, the project conducts research on the barriers and challenges to developing a regional market for local seed producers. Ten fresh
    market vegetable producers interviewed in anticipation of this project reported a 90-100% reliance on national companies to source their
    seed. Instead of buying directly from local seed growers, they purchase almost exclusively from other regions. As the climate becomes
    increasingly variable and available irrigation water is expected to decrease, regionally adapted seeds will become more important to the
    finanical viability and production success of vegetable producers. Additionally, seed farmers who sell directly to producers instead of on
    contract with companies can garner higher prices and therefore make their businesses more profitable than by selling into wholesale
    markets. Developing relationships between fresh market and seed producers will benefit all involved.
    Research methods consist of focus groups and surveys of vegetable producers and aims to discover their reasons for not purchasing directly
    from local seed growers. Seed trials conducted at the Teaching Farm by the Seed Grower Training Cohort members will showcase the
    performance of local varieties next to commonly used varieties. 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. Strengthening the connections between seed producers and vegetable producers will result in a multitude of benefits including
    collaborations on improved varieties, on-farm variety trialing, shared marketing and branding, and a stronger local economy.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Train 15 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:
    A. 3-5 hours of weekly field hours, working alongside Seed Training Mentor 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)
    B. Five 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)
    C. 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)
    D. 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)
    2. Develop local markets for Southern Oregon Seed Producers
    A. Conduct two focus groups with 5-7 commercial vegetable producers (10-14 total) to discover challenges and barriers to purchasing seed
    from regional seed producers. (November 2017)
    B. 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. Additionally, the survey will capture the most common varieties and seed
    sources used to inform variety trials. (October 2017)
    C. At the Teaching Farm, trial seed varieties from five participating seed producers (chard from Seven Seeds Farm, kale 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)
    D. 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)
    E. Produce two-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.

    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.