USDA Proposes More Oversight of GE Wheat: Is it Enough?

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Wheat fields in Northern California. Photo credit: Organic Seed Alliance

UPDATE 12/11/15: The USDA officially announced that it will require permits for all future GE wheat field trials.

Thanks to the organizations and businesses that signed our comments calling for these permits and strong containment conditions.

Background:

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is proposing a policy change that should provide more oversight of genetically engineered (GE) wheat planted in experimental field trials, though major improvements to regulations and oversight are still desperately needed.

The amount of acreage growing experimental varieties of GE crops is a long-standing concern of the organic community. Thousands of acres of experimental crops are planted each year.

We know seed and pollen cannot be fully contained in an open-air environment, and that GE traits are found in organic and other non-GE seed, crops, and food, creating a burden and financial risk to those who find their products contaminated. The USDA released data this month on some of these costs, finding what we already knew: that contamination is costing organic farmers millions of dollars. Contamination events sometimes involve experimental crops, as we saw with GE rice in 2006 and with GE wheat in 2013 and 2014, to name just two examples.

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New 2015 Western Washington Variety Trial Report

Greenbank-Farm-2015-Western-Washington-Trial-Report-cover-pageOrganic Seed Alliance (OSA) and Greenbank Farm released a new variety trial report today. The Greenbank Farm Organic Seed Project: 2015 Western Washington Trial Report is the result of on-farm variety trials conducted in 2014 and 2015 by organic farmers in Western Washington with technical advising support from both OSA and Greenbank Farm. The report includes descriptions of trial goals, trial methods, and trial result data of six on-farm variety trials conducted on four participating farms in Western Washington in 2015. Trials included varieties of tomatoes, dry pole beans, popcorn, radicchio, chicory, snap peas, and bush yellow snap beans.

On-farm trials are a valuable tool for farmers to learn first-hand how varieties grown under their specific environment and growing practices perform. A great deal of information can also be gained from sharing results with other farmers. In 2015, Greenbank Farm’s Organic Seed Project, in partnership with OSA, offered organic farmers in Western Washington the opportunity to conduct on-farm variety trials. Participating farmers selected the crop and varieties of their choice. They identified the trial goals, managed the trial, conducted all trial evaluations, and prepared written trial reports. Farmers were asked to share their results so performance data could be made available to other farmers in the region.

Download the report here. Continue reading

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UC Davis & OSA to Collaborate on Organic Breeding

(Left to right) Organic farmer Scott Park, Student Farm Director Mark Van Horn, Plant Breeding Center Director Charlie Brummer, and Jared Zystro, Assistant Director of Research and Education at Organic Seed Alliance Photo courtesy of the UC Davis Plant Breeding Center

Organic farmer Scott Park, Student Farm Director Mark Van Horn, Plant Breeding Center Director Charlie Brummer, and OSA’s Jared Zystro
Photo courtesy: UC Davis Plant Breeding Center

Re-posted with permission from UC Davis

A new effort to provide California growers with seeds for tomato, bean, pepper and other crop varieties that are specially bred for organic farming has been launched at UC Davis.

The organic plant-breeding project was developed in direct response to California organic growers, who have reported that the scarcity of seeds for cultivars that meet the needs of organic farming can seriously impact a farm’s bottom line.

“Seeds bred to account for the difference between growing organically and conventionally could improve farm yields and marketing potential for produce, yet organic seeds available to farmers are rarely developed with these organic management considerations in mind,” said Charlie Brummer, director of the UC Davis Plant Breeding Center and coordinator of the new organic breeding project.

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Nation’s Largest Organic Seed Conference to Take Place in Oregon this February

logo-osgc2016-no-dateOrganic Seed Alliance (OSA), along with co-hosts Washington State University, Oregon State University, and eOrganic, will hold the 8th Organic Seed Growers Conference in Corvallis, Oregon, from February 3 – 6, 2016. The conference features presentations, panel discussions, and networking events around the theme of “Cultivating Resilience.”

The conference kicks off with two full-day events: an organic seed production intensive for farmers on Wednesday, February 3rd, and a tour of organic seed operations in the Willamette Valley, home to a premier seed-growing region and industry, on Thursday, February 4th.

The conference is the largest event in North America to focus solely on organic seed systems. Session topics range from organic plant breeding, seed production, and distribution, to enhancing policies that support the growth and integrity of the organic seed sector.

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Help Us Cultivate a Resilient Food System

hand-image-quoteAs the climate changes and our farms experience increasingly severe drought, storms, pests, and disease, we’re actually being handed a tremendous learning opportunity.

By knocking our food systems off balance, nature is not only showing us where we need to improve, but also how to do it.

Resilient ecosystems, or those that bounce back quickly in the face of climate chaos, have a lot to teach us about successfully adapting to changing conditions. Research shows that resilient agricultural ecosystems are bio-diverse ecosystems. At Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) we take that knowledge to heart by incorporating diversity into every level of our work.

Please help us cultivate a resilient food system that includes diverse seed stakeholders and organically bred seed varieties with a tax-deductible donation.
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