Helping Organic Farmers Breed the Seed They Need

Introduction_to_On-farm_Organic_Plant_Breeding_DRAFT-3-19-14 (dragged)

OSA is happy to announce today the release of four organic plant breeding manuals that walk farmers through the methods of breeding new crop varieties on their farm. They include an introduction to on-farm organic plant breeding and three crop-specific breeding manuals covering carrots, sweet corn, and tomatoes.

“One of our goals is to empower organic farmers to breed their own crop varieties,” says OSA Executive Director Micaela Colley. “The methods described in these manuals can immediately be adopted by farmers to improve their skills in plant breeding, and, ultimately, improve their operations through seed varieties that are well-suited to their farms.”

Introduction to On-farm Organic Plant Breeding provides farmers an overview of basic genetics, farm-based experimental design, and breeding techniques appropriate for organic farms, among other useful background and instruction. The introductory guide provides the scientific foundation for the crop-specific instruction provided in the other three guides: How to Breed Carrots for Organic Agriculture, How to Breed Sweet Corn for Organic Agriculture, and How to Breed Tomatoes for Organic Agriculture. Each crop-specific manual provides step-by-step instruction from identifying good breeding material to maintaining a new variety for quality and uniformity.

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Seed Stewards, Policy Advocates are ‘Farmers of the Year’

theresa_podell-largeOSA was thrilled to see the seed stewarding Podoll family recognized as farmers of the year at the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service‘s (MOSES) 25th organic farming conference. Theresa and David Podoll of Fullerton, North Dakota, are pioneers of organic seed production in the Northern Plains and intimately engaged in the national community of seed stewards through research collaborations and seed distribution. Read more about their farm and business, Prairie Road Organic Seed, here.

They are also courageous advocates for sound policy, as evidenced by Theresa’s commentary (view video) on USDA’s pending approval of 2,4-D tolerant crops.

“We’re surrounded by GMO soy and corn,” Theresa says, “and so what wakes me up at 3 o’clock at night, and keeps me awake for the rest of the night, is thinking about the viability of our farm if those crops are approved and released.”

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Summit on Seeds & Breeds for 21st Century Agriculture

Capitol_Building_Washington_DC-870x300-855x285Earlier this month, OSA staff traveled to Washington, DC, to participate in the 2014 Summit on Seeds & Breeds for 21st Century Agriculture: Meeting the Challenges of Food Security. The event was hosted by the Rural Advancement Foundation International – USA. OSA participated on the planning committee and provided two presentations at the summit. The event brought together public and private plant breeders, seed and food companies, policy advocates, decision makers, and farmers for presentations and discussion on how best to move public plant breeding programs forward in the U.S. The goal of the summit was to build a clear policy pathway for ensuring that our public research investments are meeting the needs of a regionally appropriate, diverse, and resilient systems of agricultural production. A proceedings and white paper outlining a national strategy will be published later this spring. While in DC, OSA visited Capitol Hill to deliver the seeds and breeds message to members of Congress.

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NOSB Soliciting Comments on Seed Purity Report

nop_logoIn 2012 and 2013, a GMO ad hoc subcommittee of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) collected comments on a GMO and seed purity discussion document. The subcommittee sought input from organic stakeholders on ways to strengthen seed purity as one step to avoid potential contamination of crops by GMOs. In particular, the subcommittee asked about the appropriateness and feasibility of establishing a genetic purity standard for seed used in organic systems. This month the NOSB posted a report that summarizes the public comments received in response to this discussion document. The report provides the subcommittee’s analysis of the situation. It does not include a recommendation. OSA submitted detailed comments in September of 2012 and is working on additional comments to submit in advance of the NOSB’s next meeting in San Antonio, Texas, from April 29 – May 2, 2014. Learn more about this meeting here. Comments are due April 8, 2014. Submit comments electronically here. If you would like to discuss this report, please contact Kristina Hubbard.

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Partnering with Greenbank Farm’s Organic Seed Project

greenbankGreenbank Farm, an OSA partner and non-profit educational farm on Whidbey Island, has started the second year of its Organic Seed Project. This project, which is funded through a Washington State Department of Agriculture Specialty Crops Block Grant, aims to encourage new and existing organic farmers in Western Washington to conduct variety trials, save and improve their seed, and network regionally. Project activities include:

•  Offering regional farmers stipends and technical assistance to conduct their own on-farm variety trials.

•  Launching an online organic seed growers discussion group where members can ask questions, answer questions, and share resources and experiences concerning regional organic seed production.

•  Sponsoring regional workshops taught by OSA. This year’s scheduled workshops include:

•  June 16, 2014: Greenbank Farm, On-farm Breeding with Self-pollinated Crops

•  August 2014: Seed Cleaning Workshop (date and location to be announced)

•  Initiating a seed equipment rental program where farmers can affordably rent a small belt thresher and air-screen seed cleaner.

•  Variety trials, seed improvement activities, and field days at the Greenbank Farm.

To learn more about the project and how to participate, click here.

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