Reports Describe Plant Breeding Priorities for Organic

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Michael Mazourek of Cornell University explains one of his pepper projects as part of an organic plant breeding course in Montana.

Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) and Cornell University today announced the release of two reports that detail plant breeding priorities for organic agriculture in the Pacific Northwest and Northeast, respectively. The assessments are a result of surveys and regional working groups that gathered input from organic farmers, organic seed and food distributors, and public and private plant breeders.

“The long-term goal of this project is to increase farmers’ access to regionally appropriate seed well-suited for organic production,” says Micaela Colley, program director of OSA and co-author of the organization’s Pacific Northwest report. “Farmers who use organic practices focus more on prevention and resistance because they have fewer inputs at their disposal. They need crop varieties developed specifically for low-input systems – crops that mitigate pest and disease pressures, and that are adapted to their local conditions and climates.”

To date, plant-breeding efforts focused on organic production have been minimal, and organic farmers remain underserved in seed adapted to organic conditions. Research demonstrates that varieties developed under non-organic growing conditions are not always successful in organic and other low-input systems. The two reports announced today provide recommendations to inform plant-breeding efforts by ranking crops and traits most important to organic farmers.

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Seed consolidation continues. So should resistance.

seedindustryThe seed industry is one of the most consolidated in agriculture, and it’s getting worse.

Bayer recently announced that it reached a merger agreement with Monsanto, which will create the world’s largest supplier in seeds and agricultural chemicals. DuPont and Dow, and ChemChina and Syngenta, have also announced agreements to merge. If the Department of Justice (DOJ) allows these three mega-mergers to move forward, three corporations will sell nearly 60% of the world’s seed. This level of concentration will have grave impacts on U.S. agriculture, including organic.

We know that consolidation in the seed industry leads to less choice for all farmers, regardless of what they grow and how they grow it. When it comes to the needs of organic farmers, they’re already underserved by this industry because the dominant players only invest in seed technologies and chemical production systems that are in conflict with organic farming practices. These companies also aggressively protect their intellectual property rights on seeds, which means less innovation and more restrictions on how seed is used and exchanged, including for research purposes and seed saving.

That’s why nine groups, including OSA, submitted petitions last week signed by 708,000 people urging the DOJ and elected officials to block these pending mergers. The signatures were submitted the same day that the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to discuss this consolidation. Only two of the nine panelists who gave testimony objected to the mergers. This imbalance was a gross misrepresentation of how most farmers feel about the mergers. If you missed it, you can watch the hearing here and read a summary by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

We all need to speak up in opposition to these mergers and work to support policies and programs that expand seed choices for farmers, especially as we head into the next Farm Bill. If you’re not already on our newsletter list to receive timely action alerts, sign up here.

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Over 700,000 People Tell Gov’t to Block Seed Mergers

Pile of argula seedsAs the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee meets today to examine consolidation in the agriculture seed and chemical industry, nine groups have submitted petitions signed by 708,000 people urging the Department of Justice and elected officials to block several pending mergers that would further consolidate the market for seeds and agricultural chemicals. The pending mergers between Dow-DuPont, Syngenta-ChemChina and Bayer-Monsanto would further increase the control that just a few companies maintain over seeds – the basic building blocks of the food system.

The organizations point out that allowing additional mergers among the biggest players in the already consolidated seed and chemical market will stifle innovation in seed development and worsen the problem of limited diversity and resilience in our seed supply, leaving farmers with fewer options and higher costs.

The organizations joining the call to block these mega-mergers include SumofUs, Food & Water Watch, Sierra Club, Pesticide Action Network, Friends of the Earth, Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, Rural Advancement Foundation International and Clif Bar Family Foundation/Seed Matters.

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We Have a New Executive Director!

cara_headshot_2016We’re proud to announce Cara Loriz as our new executive director!

Cara joins OSA this month with an impressive background in nonprofit development; small business management and public advocacy; and environmental education, consulting, and writing. Micaela Colley, our previous director, will remain on staff in a new role.

Cara most recently worked as the executive director of Sylvestor Manor, a nonprofit educational farm located on Shelter Island, New York, where she managed the day-to-day farm and program operations. She holds degrees in geology and technical writing, and taught environmental science and geology in California, Utah, and Ohio. She also served as editor of the local newspaper on Shelter Island, New York, before joining the nonprofit farm world. She and her husband Mike moved to Port Townsend in 2015.

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Special Community Field Day and Variety Tasting

24753258886_9cf02b91dd_z-1Join us for a community field day and variety tasting on September 26th, 2016, from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Chimacum Farm Collaborative located at the Finnriver Orchard.

The event celebrates the second annual harvest at our Washington research farm, which serves as the hub of our Pacific Northwest organic plant breeding, seed education, and variety trial program. Partners from Washington State University (WSU) will join the event to discuss the OSA-WSU Organic Germplasm Consortium and report on local quinoa breeding efforts.

Participants will have a chance to look at our research during a one-hour field tour beginning at 4:30 p.m. The field tour will also cover the importance of regional seed systems and why increasing access to organic seed is important to farmers, the communities they feed, and the environment.

Finnriver Cidery will be open for no-host tastings and purchases of cider at 4:00 p.m. A variety tasting and chef-showcase will begin at 5:30 p.m.

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