In Celebration of Public Plant Breeding

This week Organic Seed Alliance is celebrating the next generation of organic plant breeders. These breeders are improving organic seed to meet the changing needs of farmers and the broader organic community.

In the days that follow you will read short interviews with four public breeders, two of whom are students, who are working with farmers and OSA researchers in participatory plant breeding projects to address specific organic seed needs. As OSA witnessed at the recent Student Symposium on Organic Plant Breeding, the interest in breeding for organic systems is growing. Still, organic plant breeding is in its infancy. As we noted in our State of Organic Seed report, further investments in organic seed projects will result in exponential improvements that recognize local ecological systems and address food consumer needs, such as regionally adapted seed varieties that are suitable to a range of growing seasons, resist important crop diseases, and have enhanced flavor and nutrition. This means support for training in field-based and low-input system breeding is more important than ever. Such funding is critical to serving the public good in the face of changing disease, pest, and climate pressures.

As you’ll read tomorrow, this year marks the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and our land grant university system. Reflecting on the founding missions of both entities provides an opportunity to examine the state of plant breeding and seed, and to reinvest in an infrastructure that provides the next generation of breeders genuine opportunity in the field of public plant breeding. Tomorrow we describe certain policies and practices that have undermined these founding missions, such as patents on plant genetics and the privatization of research.

What we hope to leave you with this week is not just evidence of the problems, but stories from the field that showcase the strong momentum toward plant breeding projects through which farmers and researchers guide research goals together — where managing seed as a public resource is seen as central to the success of agriculture. And where organic agriculture has an opportunity to create its own path for seed system development.

As Atina Diffley, author of Turn Here Sweet Corn and OSA board member, says: “Seeds are all about the next generation, which is exactly what organic is about.”

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