How Many GE Wheat Contamination Events Will It Take?

IMG_1473Another variety of unapproved, genetically engineered (GE) wheat has been discovered, this time in Montana, underscoring once again the remarkably weak regulations governing experimental plantings of GE crops.

The USDA announced the discovery on Friday, the news buried in a press release about the closing of its investigation into how GE wheat ended up in an Oregon farmer’s field last year. GE wheat remains a regulated seed product, meaning it cannot be commercially grown in the U.S. Organic Seed Alliance responded by outlining these weaknesses and providing recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture in a letter signed by more than 150 farm organizations and food and seed businesses.

In the end, USDA says it’s unable to determine how the unapproved wheat got into the Oregon field. Monsanto continues to plant GE wheat field trials, and says GE wheat is closer than ever to entering the marketplace. Yet domestic and overseas markets still reject GE wheat, as evidenced by the market disruption caused by the Oregon event last year, leading to a handful of lawsuits against Monsanto (some of which were recently settled). A 2005 report estimates that the wheat industry could lose $94 to $272 million if GE wheat is introduced.

And now another investigation is underway in Montana. This past July, GE wheat was found at a Montana State University research station where it had been grown between 2000 and 2003. Like the Oregon event, the wheat was discovered years after trials ended and only after some plants unexpectedly survived the spraying of glyphosate. The two events appear unrelated, however.

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Student Organic Seed Symposium Inspires

SOSSOSA’s Micaela Colley and Jared Zystro left the Student Organic Seed Symposium in awe of the next generation of organic researchers and inspired by the path forward carved by national and international leaders in organic plant breeding systems. The student-run gathering of graduate students, university and public plant breeders, organic seed advocates, and seed industry is a powerful networking and training for the organic plant breeders and seed professionals of tomorrow.

The four-day symposium provides students with a strong community of like-minded researchers creating models of breeding for the environment, healthy communities, and regional resiliency in agriculture – “systems breeding” as scientist and symposium speaker Edith Lammerts van Beuren of Wagenigen University and the Louis Bolk Center coined it. She challenged participants to remember the “why” of organic agriculture and consider applying the ethical principles that founded the organic movement to our models of plant breeding.

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From the Field: Carrot Harvest and Field Day

cioa-field-dayIn mid-August OSA’s Micaela Colley and Laurie McKenzie joined our Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture (CIOA) research partners from University of Wisconsin-Madison and Washington State University to harvest and evaluate carrots from the project at the Mercer Canyon Ranch in Kennewick, WA.

The trial included a diverse collection of colored carrots trialed in both organic and conventional plots. All of the carrots are being evaluated for nutritional and flavor components at the University of Wisconsin-Madison under the direction of CIOA project leader Dr. Phil Simon.

Following the harvest, the research team hosted a well-attended field day at the WSU Extension field station in Pasco, WA. OSA and Dr. Simon presented the CIOA project to the group of farmers and seed industry representatives at the field day. Participants also taste-tested a sampling of CIOA carrots. Interesting and useful dialogue about the differences between carrot types, colors, and uses was spurred as everyone gathered around the tasting table.

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Silage Corn Trials for Organic Dairy Farms in California

silage-corn-4weeksDairy farming is an integral part of agriculture on the North Coast of California. The climate and the soils of North Coast deltas, river valleys, and flood plains allow dairy farmers to graze cows on excellent pasture for most of the year. However, some supplemental feed is required, including grain, hay, and silage. Silage corn is corn grown to near maturity, then harvested as a whole plant, chopped, and fermented (ensiled) to increase its digestibility.

Although silage corn is just a small part of the diet of these dairy cows, it is nonetheless an important crop. North Coast area silage producers face a couple of challenges. The first challenge is that the area is drastically different from the major corn producing areas. When OSA’s Jared Zystro shared the local temperatures with a corn breeder in the Midwest, she thought there was a typo. There are few varieties able to mature in the area because of the cool summers. The second challenge is that the major corn breeding companies focus on releasing varieties with genetically engineered (GE) traits. Because of this, some local farmers feel that if they want access to the newest and best silage corn varieties, they need to use GE corn.

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An Update From the Southeast

Field day 5The first southeast U.S. organic cucurbit variety trails and field day occurred this summer as part of theOrganic Cucurbit Research Project being led by Cornell University and supported by OSA, North Carolina State University, and Auburn University. Farmers participating in the project are building experience and knowledge in conducting their own variety trials and have established a network for ongoing collaboration. These momentous events represent the development of a strong southeastern organic seed system foundation.

The Organic Cucurbit Research Project includes organic melon, squash, and cucumber variety trials to support future breeding work by developing varieties resistance to Downy Mildew, Striped Cucumber Beetles, and viruses. This year OSA participated in trials on six farms throughout North Carolina and co-hosted a field day at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville, NC to share initial results of the trials. The weather wasn’t too cooperative for a field day, but the trial could not have been planned better. The crops were at the ideal stage for trail evaluations and there were ripe melons for our taste test. This project is funded through a grant from the USDA Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) and will go through the next two years.

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