Producing Organic Vegetable Seed
Summary: Producing Organic Vegetable Seed
October 1, 2005- September 30, 2006
In this, the second year of the project, Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) worked with cooperating producers and agricultural professionals to host six field days on organic vegetable seed production. The all-day events included presentations from the producer hosts (experienced organic seed producers), seed industry professionals, university researchers, and OSA staff. Based upon evaluations and input from attending producers in year one, the cooperators expanded upon and developed new educational materials, integrating new private and public sector research on organic production and organic seed specifics. The topic that producers most often pointed out as one in which they needed assistance was diseases of seed crops (including seed-borne disease). Thus year two has a strong focus on this important quality issue as well as overall information needed to take a crop from planning through to post-harvest handling. Overall producer participation at field days exceeded projections, cooperating producers saw improvements in production, and new partnerships were leveraged from connections made during the course of the year’s work.
1) Continue to establish, enhance, and promote a system of educating farmers in organic seed production by working with experienced producers, university specialists, and seed industry professionals. Host field days and create crop-specific manuals.
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) Develop a mentoring program that links new seed producers with experienced producers and other agricultural professionals.
4) Provide seed producers with information and skills to improve crop quality and economic viability.
Summary of accomplishments: The project team (OSA staff and cooperators) hosted six field days on vegetable seed production. Year one educational materials were enhanced, new materials created, second year performance parameters were assessed and compared to year one, and participant evaluations were collected. We increased skills, attitudes, and awareness of existing and interested producers of seed crops, and shared information on seed economics and marketing. Cooperating producers saw improvements in quality of crop. Producers attending year one field days reported an increase in seed contracts, improvements in crop quality, and an overall better understanding of seed production in year two. Field days had a total of 224 participants,132 producers and 92 agricultural professionals, far surpassing our proposal estimates. Producer-cooperators and OSA staff presented on the project at regional conferences (Seed Growers Conference, EcoFarm, Montana Organic, New Mexico Organic) and via these events reached over 200 additional producers. New cooperators joined the project including university researchers and two new producers who hosted field days.
Field days and production improvements:
1) 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)
– 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 were 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 were 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.
2) 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 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)
– 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)
Improvements: In year one, producers determined that measurable criteria for an improvement should be improving the ideotype (stock seed contracts) and yield performance based on differing planting dates. Recommendations were made and applied in year two. The seed company that contracted the producer for stock seed production has measured the improvements in ideotype after year one roguing and found improvements of 10-20% in uniformity, root color, and root shape. This will again be measured in year three and compared with reporting in year three. Yield improvements over three years will also be shown in final report.
3) July 17, 2006: Lettuce and Brassica Seed Production at Gathering Together Farm, Philomath, Oregon (Frank Morton and John Evelund 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: This site was a new site in 2006, taking 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. Producers who attended will be contacted in the final year to see if there were increases in their production contracts or improvements in production practices and crop quality).
4) August 22, 2006: Mixed vegetable seed crops at Eel River Farm, Shively, CA (Bill Reynolds as cooperating producer)
– 17 producers, 10 with seed experience
– 5 agricultural professionals from University of California-Davis and seed industry
– 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.
5) September 9, 2006: Radish and Mixed Vegetable Seed at Seven Seeds Farm, Williams, Oregon (Don Tipping as producer-cooperator)
– 23 producers, 16 with seed experience
– 7 agricultural professionals from OSU, Oregon Tilth, and seed industry
– 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)
6) 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
– 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.
OSA staff and the three cooperating-producers presented at several national and regional agricultural conferences in year two. These included:
1) 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”
2) January 11-12, 2006 – Fourth Biennial Seed Growers Conference (Troutdale, Oregon). Over two hundred producers, university extension and researchers, and seed industry representatives attended the sessions.
Tipping presented on “Whole System Seed Growing: Integrating Seed Production with CSA, Market Farming, Economics and Animal Husbandry”
Huber and Brossy co-presented “Seed Economics: The Value of Seed Production on a Diverse Organic Farm”
Navazio on “Environmental Factors for Selecting Seed Crop Production Sites”
3) January 26-27, 2006 – EcoFarm (Monterrey, California). Over 50 producers attended session by Chichester, Huber, and Dillon on “Benefits and Potential of Organic Seed Production”
4) 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”
OSA created a mentorship application and presented it to all producers that attended workshops as well as distributed via our web site. Fourteen producers received formal mentorship from OSA staff and/or cooperating producers Tipping and Morton. A total of 64 hours of mentoring was provided. The majority of this time was phone or email communication, with Tipping spending time in the field with several producers in his region. Mentoring will continue in year three.
Crop-specific seed production manuals are being edited and published. In year two drafts were reviewed by producers, seed industry, and university professionals. Publication and distribution will occur in the first quarter of year three.
Producers who attended field asked for additional assistance with marketing their seed services. OSA applied for Western SARE funding to create a Seed Producer Database and were successful in acquiring funding via a Producer-Professional grant. The database was designed with input from several producers, has been tested by them, and will be up and running in the first quarter of the third year. This marketing tool will be promoted at all year three events.
Also, experienced conventional seed producers attending our field days requested specific information on organic management practices. These are producers with strong seed skills, but need assistance in transitioning some or all of their acreage into organic. Working with OMRI and Oregon State University, we submitted a Professional Development Program proposal and received funding to develop a short course on organic practices for seed producers that will be targeted at extension,producers and other ag professionals working in regions of conventional seed production throughout the western region. In year three we will promote this short course at all events.
Finally, as noted in year one report, 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 received funding of $9,629 for a “Weather Related Risk Reduction Guidelines” grant. In year two we wrote this guide and created an hour-long session incorporated into all field days and educational packets. This added value to the field days and helped us fill in an information gap that we had not planned on addressing in the original project.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Year Two – Impacts
1) Increasing producer knowledge, awareness, attitudes and skills:
Two hundred and twenty-four field day participants (132 producers and 92 agricultural professionals) were provided with educational materials and practical in-field production experience of a high value niche market product. An additional 400+ producers attended shorter seed production sessions at regional and national conferences. Fourteen producers received more intensive mentoring. Producers returning to field days from year one reported benefits from information and skills acquired in year one, including an increase in contracts, improved crop quality, and greater confidence in their seed skills. Cooperating producers saw benefits in lower incidence of disease, decreased off-types, better yields, and improved overall planning and management of seed crops.
2) Information dissemination:
As in year one, 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. We searched OSU agricultural library for existing extension material on seed and made copies for distribution at field days. OSA field day folders included examples of seed contracts, reproductive biology of seed crops, crop cultivation techniques, disease management guidelines, and weather-related risk guides.
3) Other impacts:
From this project there has been an expanded and deepened partnership between OSU, WSU, and Organic Seed Alliance. The three organizations worked together to co-host the fourth biennial Seed Growers Conference, have submitted additional seed proposals together, and university researchers from both institutions have joined the OSA board of directors. This has a positive impact on producers. At many conferences and producer meetings around the country, there are often very vocal critics of their local land grant universities, with accusations that research and extension do not address the needs of smaller farmers and/or organic farmers. Our producers feel quite the opposite, and have been elated to have the professional expertise from OSU and WSU at our events. The researchers and extension personnel respond similarly, and have developed new partnerships with producers who have attended our events for some of their other projects. Alex Stone of OSU is a prime example of this, working with some of our seed producers on disease research and potato trials. This impact is often overlooked, but we believe that building healthy relationships between producers, NGOs, and universities has a long-lasting, positive benefit and are very proud of the cooperators working with us for taking a big step in this direction.
Producer/Major PI – Organic Seed Farmer
Shoshone, ID 83352
Office Phone: 2088862902
Nash Huber Farms
4701 Sequim-Dungeness Road
Sequim, WA 98382
Office Phone: 3606836561
Producer/Major PI – Organic Seed Farmer
Seven Seeds Farm
220 E Fork Road
Williams, OR 97544
Office Phone: 5418469233