Producing Organic Vegetable Seed

2005 Annual 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

Producing Organic Vegetable Seed


Summary: Producing Organic Vegetable Seed

In the autumn of 2004 the project team worked with agricultural professionals from university and seed industry sectors to improve seed production skills and benefits for existing and new seed producers through crop-specific educational outreach. In the first year we took input from producers to create an outreach template, and began compiling the essential information needed to take a crop from planning/field prep through to post-harvest handling. Educational folders were created and field days conducted in Idaho, Washington and Oregon. Producer participation exceeded projections and first year markers were measured for comparison in the coming two years.

Objectives/Performance Targets

  1. 1) 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).

    2) 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.

    3) Create financial opportunities for farmers in a burgeoning and sustainable market.

    4) Strengthen a weak link in organic systems by bridging an information gap in practices of organic seed production


Summary of accomplishments: The project team (OSA staff of Dillon and Navazio/Producers Brossy, Tipping, and Chichester) and cooperators from university and seed sector designed and hosted four field days in three states on spinach, radish and bean seed production. Educational materials were created, performance parameters were assessed, and participant input was collected. We increased skills, attitudes, and awareness of existing and interested producers of seed crops, and shared information on seed economics and marketing. Five producers who had “saved seed” but never had commercial seed crops received contracts for seed production made from contacts with seed company reps that attended field days. Participants determined criteria for crop production improvements to be measured over course of project.

Educational material in folders for all field days included (some of this material will be developed into crop manuals in year three):
– Project Description/Goals
-Pre-workshop producer surveys
– History and statistics of seed production on cooperating farms
– Example of commercial contracts
-Crop specific profiles including reproductive basics, cultivation practices and challenges, and disease diagnostics.
-Post-workshop evaluations

Field day highlights, specific data, performance parameters:

1)March 23, 2005: 1st Spinach Seed Field Day at Nash’s Organic in Dungeness, Washington (Scott Chichester as Producer-Cooperator )
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)
Dr. Lindsey DuToit, vegetable seed pathologist, was unable to attend due to pneumonia but did send educational materials on seed diseases. We also sent her samples of producers 2004 spinach seed crop and diseased plants from 2005 for assessment. Lindsey attended the second field day to give us reports and give a presentation (see July 21st field day).
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 ended with 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”
Performance parameters: Producers determined that incidence of disease and off-types were the two improvement criteria to measure over the course of three years. Data were taken on each.

2)May 20, 2005: Radish Seed Field Day at Seven Seeds Farm in Williams, Oregon (Don Tipping as Producer-Cooperator)
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 varieties 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), and watched cultivation techniques for appropriate spacing, weeding, and transplanting roots after selection. In order to demonstrate selection, the group pulled 5,000 roots from two very distinct cultivars (a red ball type and French Breakfast type). Ideotypes were discussed and identified and selection occurred, roguing out plants that 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 DuToit, vegetable seed pathologist at Washington State University/Mt Vernon, gave a 3-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 (CD included in hard copy of this report).
Lindsey also reported on the seed assay that she conducted from the producers’ 2004 spinach seed crop. We will be monitoring this seed crop for seed-borne disease throughout the three years of the project as one of the performance parameters Test results can be found on hard copy as web was not able to format tables.

At the field day we took samples of plants that appeared to be infected in the field and these were also tested for disease. Cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) subtype II, and beet western yellows virus (BWYV) were found. As CMV can be seed transmitted in spinach, it will also be monitored and heavily rogued in coming years.

4)July 27, 2005: Bean Seed Field Day at Bryant Ranch in Shoshone, Idaho (Fred Brossy as Producer-Cooperator)
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.

Leveraging Funding:
A staffer from the USDA-RMA program heard good reports from our field days and contacted us with the suggestion that we apply for an RMA grant to further develop educational materials regarding managing seed crop risk. We wrote a proposal “Weather Related Risk Reduction Guidelines” and received funding for $9,629. In 2006 we will incorporate these guidelines into the WSARE field days and educational materials. Field day participants will receive copies of the guidelines with practical techniques for mitigating loss in dry seeded crops in years of adverse harvest weather.

Note on change in outreach for Year 1:
We had hoped to conduct 6 field days. The second field days for radish and bean were scheduled for September but were canceled. The field days were canceled due to our primary project educator, Dr. John Navazio, being diagnosed with cancer and beginning chemotherapy and radiation. We met with producer-cooperators Tipping and Brossy and decided that we could reach a broad audience at the January 2006 “Organic Seed Growers Conference” in Troutdale, Oregon. Producers will cover topics that field day participants requested additional info on. Brossy will cover “On Farm Seed Economics” and Tipping “Integrating seed crops into a Diverse Farm.” Navazio will present on “Environmental Considerations for Seed Crops.” We will also have an outdoor tent with seed harvest and cleaning equipment and demonstrations. The conference has reached full registration with 160 participants.

Work left to do:
Continue field days in 2006 drawing in new and repeat producers. We will continue to track criteria for crop production improvements. Educational materials will evolve and in 2007 become crop-specific production manuals. In 2007 we will host winter workshops and present seed production information for a wide range of crops as well as distribute the finished manuals. All educational materials will be made web ready for distribution beyond field day participants.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

  1. 1)Increasing producer knowledge, awareness, attitudes and skills:
    129 field day participants were provided with educational materials and practical in-field production experience of a high value niche market product. Organic seed continues to be a need for organic producers, and seed companies are actively looking for producers with these skills. The producers who attend these field days have increased awareness of market potential, cultivation challenges, integration of seed crops into a diverse farm plan, how to improve seed crop quality. They also learned of potential benefits of producing seed crops to meet their own seed needs for fresh market crops that they are already producing. Nearly 70% of the participants had some seed production experience, with the majority of these producers “saving seed” for on-farm use. Those producers who had commercial seed experience had access to university and private sector seed professionals and were able to ask specific questions regarding improving their existing practices. Evaluations (collected at each field day) praised the involvement of the producer-cooperators and noted that they appreciated the farmer-to-farmer educational format.

    2)Information dissemination:
    We disseminated information on organic seed production techniques, market opportunities, disease, and purity issues in seed crops, benefits of seed production for on-farm use, and integrating seed into a whole-farm system. Information came from OSA staff experience in the field, university researchers, seed industry professionals, and experienced seed producers. Information folders were developed and distributed to the 129 participants and to an additional 34 producers who were not able to attend field days but requested the educational information. In the coming year this info will be available online.

    3)Other impacts:
    Five producers who attended field days and had no previous commercial contracts received new contracts for 2006. These are all in spinach seed production, including breeding stock increases. Cooperating producers have begun an economic analysis of their crops as a result of beginning this project and have set a goal of reassessing the dollar/acre they need for different seed crops. The value of on-farm use is also being demonstrated, particularly by producer-cooperator Chichester at Nash’s Organic Produce. Participants have given strong input into how they want the project to develop over the three years, and based on their recommendations we will expand our information to include adverse weather in dry seeded crops (see leveraged funding in Accomplishments). We have also submitted funding proposal for an organic seed producer database, as many of the producers have noted that marketing their skills as an area where they need further assistance. The project is gaining momentum, and we have had over 200 new producers sign-up on the OSA web site for “education alerts.” We also have reached maximum capacity for our 4th Organic Seed Growers Conference, the largest registration ever, and have partnered with Oregon and Washington State Universities to host the event for the first time. In part we attribute this rise in interest to the information dissemination, media articles, and word of mouth interest that has arisen from first year success in this WSARE seed production project. Producer involvement is growing and we look forward to continued success in the final two years of this project.


Fred Brossy

[email protected]
Producer/Major PI - Organic Seed Farmer
Bryant Ranch
Box 424
Shoshone, ID 83352
Office Phone: 2088862902
Scott Chichester

Producer/Major PI - Organic Seed Farmer
Nash Huber Farms
4701 Sequim-Dungeness Road
Sequim, WA 98382
Office Phone: 3606836561
John Navazio

[email protected]
Major Particpant
Organic Seed Alliance
Box 772
Port Townsend, WA 98368
Office Phone: 3603857192
Don Tipping

[email protected]
Producer/Major PI - Organic Seed Farmer
Seven Seeds Farm
220 E Fork Road
Williams, OR 97544
Office Phone: 5418469233