OSA Publishes State of Organic Seed

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 16, 2011

CONTACT
Kristina Hubbard, Director of Advocacy, (406) 493-6965, kristina@seedalliance.org

Organic Seed Alliance Publishes State of Organic Seed

Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) released an extensive report last weekend at the Organicology conference in Portland, Oregon, that serves as the first comprehensive analysis of the challenges and opportunities in building the organic seed sector.

The report, titled State of Organic Seed: Advancing the Viability and Integrity of Organic Seed Systems, is an ongoing project to monitor the status of organic seed systems in the United States. The USDA National Organic Program requires the use of organically produced seed when commercially available. However, the organic seed sector was almost nonexistent when the organic program began, and has not caught up to meet the demand for organic seed. This gap could expand given the continued growth of the organic industry.

State of Organic Seed provides evidence that organic seed systems are developing. Farmers report increased attempts to source organic seed and more pressure from certifiers to do so. Public research in organic plant breeding has increased slightly, with investments from both the public and private sector.

Still, challenges and needs loom large for expanding organic seed systems.

“The lack of organically bred and produced seed is a barrier to the growth and ongoing success of organic farming,” says lead author Matthew Dillon. “Seed is the critical first link in organic production, and provides farmers the genetic tools to confront day-to-day challenges in the field.”

Authors note that organic farmers face different challenges than their conventional counterparts. Further investments in organic plant breeding will yield adapted genetics suitable to a range of pest and disease pressures, growing seasons, and flavor and nutrition needs. Organic seed that is appropriate to regional agronomic challenges, market needs, and regulations is therefore fundamental to the success of organic farmers and the food system they supply.

The report captured overarching priorities for building organic seed systems, including:

-    Developing seed systems that are responsive to the diverse needs of organic farmers through increased public-private collaboration, including a refined understanding of organic plant breeding principles and practices.

-    Engaging the National Organic Program in policy initiatives that move organic seed forward.

-    Reinvigorating public plant breeding with an emphasis on the development of cultivars that fit the social, agronomic, environmental, and market needs of organics.

-    Protecting organic seed systems from threats of concentrated ownership of plant genetics.

-    Protecting organic seed systems from threats of contamination from genetically engineered traits.

-    Improving sharing of information in the areas of organic seed availability, lack of availability for specific varieties/traits, and field trial data.

-    Creating opportunities for organic farmers to work with professional breeders, including trialing networks and on-farm plant breeding to speed the development of regionally adapted organic cultivars.

The report released this week includes data from farmer surveys in 45 states and questionnaires from researchers, certifiers, food and seed industry representatives, and farm and food policy experts. OSA also hosted a full-day State of Organic Seed symposium in February 2010 to discuss data and prioritize next steps.

“We are developing diverse stakeholder involvement in implementing policy, research, education, and market-driven activities that result in the improved quality, integrity, and use of organic seed,” says Kristina Hubbard with Organic Seed Alliance and contributing author to the report. “An important outcome is a general agreement from stakeholders that building organic seed systems demands comprehensive, collaborative approaches.”

State of Organic Seed is available for free download.

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