Author Lisa Hamilton has written a must-read article (“Linux for Lettuce“) on how utility patents — patents for inventions — impact the future of our seed and food. In this piece, she describes the recently launched Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI), which is one example of how some plant breeders and independent seed companies are responding to the dangerous trend of patenting seed. This trend has facilitated extensive consolidation in the seed industry, altered farmers’ relationship with seed, and restricted important research, as Lisa describes.
Planting an organic sweet corn trial at Nash’s Organic Produce in Sequim, WA
Summer sweet corn: Is there anything better? How about a sweet corn that was developed with organic farmers in mind – an open-pollinated, uniform, and early maturing variety that demonstrates superb taste?
OSA is a proud collaborator in a participatory plant breeding project that developed just that. Supporting the work of breeders at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and farmer-breeder Martin Diffley of Organic Farming Works, OSA is helping to take this soon-to-be-released sweet corn variety to the next level by adapting it to the Pacific Northwest region.
Parsnip flowering at Oatsplanter Farm, an organic seed farm on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State (Copyright Organic Seed Alliance)
Pollinators are an essential partner in our work to build healthy, organic seed systems that support biodiversity and provide high-quality seed. The focus on pollinators this week is a helpful reminder that the dramatic and ongoing decline in pollinators – both commercially managed as well as native species – threatens not just the viability of organic seed producers but food security itself, since most of the food crops we eat everyday require pollination. Since the mid-1950s, the number of commercially managed honey bee hives in the U.S. has declined by nearly 50%. Yet, in the same timeframe, the amount of U.S. crop acreage requiring bee pollination has nearly doubled.
We all have a role to play in protecting our pollinators. Tell Congress today to support the Save America’s Pollinators Act, which calls for the suspension of bee-killing pesticides until a full review of scientific evidence indicates they are safe and a field study demonstrates they do no harm to bees and other pollinators. The European Union has already placed a two-year ban on many of the most harmful pesticides in an effort to protect pollinators, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has delayed action until 2018. Call on Congress to require swifter action.
And if you’re a seed producer, check out Pollinator Management for Organic Seed Producers, a publication that Organic Seed Alliance co-published with the Xerces Society earlier this year. It’s a timely resource that provides detailed overviews of the role and diversity of seed crop pollinators and strategies for managing pollination, including crop-specific guidelines. The publication also includes profiles of common pollinators and strategies for reducing pollen movement between organic and conventional farms, including farms growing genetically engineered crops. Read on for an excerpt from this publication. Download the full version here.
“Understanding the National Organic Program Seed Rule and Sourcing Organic Seed” is now archived and available at eXtension.org for anyone who missed the live broadcast on Friday, June 6, 2014.
Watch the webinar here.
The webinar covers the availability of organic seed, as well as the National Organic Program’s 2013 guidance that aimed to clarify the organic seed regulatory requirement. Presenters share perspectives on challenges in enforcing this requirement and recommendations for encouraging increased sourcing of organic seed. Finally, participants are introduced to tools and resources that support organic seed sourcing and production. This webinar is supported by a contract from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s National Organic Program.
Earlier this spring, OSA’s research team planted ‘Spring Market’ carrots at Midori Farm, one of several farms partnering with us on breeding work here on the Olympic Peninsula. The carrots were planted for seed production and will eventually be used in our Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture project, a participatory plant breeding effort to develop high-quality carrots that perform well on organic farms.
‘Spring Market’ carrots are a traditional overwintered carrot for spring harvest from the Pukekohe region on the northern island of New Zealand. This region is particularly well known for onion and carrot production. OSA uses this variety as a parent in our breeding work for its exceptionally strong tops that don’t die off during the winter, allowing the root to be pulled from the ground in spring. We also use this variety because of its ability to remain edible for a much longer length of time through the spring compared to other carrot varieties. ‘Spring Market’ produces large roots with well-rounded carrot flavor and little secondary root growth. This variety was developed as an overwintering type, so its flavor is at its best after an extended period of cold storage or overwintering in the ground.