Tribute to Larry Robertson

larry-headshotThe seed world is full of passionate individuals, but the late Dr. Larry D. Robertson was one of our most enthusiastic and inspiring seedsmen. We’re sad to share that Larry passed away on June 21st, 2016, poetically just after summer solstice with many seed crops in full bloom. He was a founding partner of several initiatives that fostered collaboration between public plant breeders and farmers, including the Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative, the Organic Seed Partnership, and the Public Seed Initiative. Larry served as Geneticist and Vegetable Curator at the USDA-ARS Plant Genetic Resources Unit (PGRU) from 1998 – 2016, and was an adjunct professor in horticulture at Cornell University. He leaves a tremendous legacy, including working around the world on conservation and breeding focused on many crops, including tomatillo, buckwheat, fava bean, and others.

Most farmers and gardeners knew Larry as the seedsman at the Common Ground Country Fair in Maine. He traveled around the Northeast to teach seed saving through demonstrations of the mobile seed cleaning unit. His plant breeding colleagues knew him as the person to call to access public germplasm or to inquire about the genetic breadth of a crop.
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Summer Newsletter: A Roadmap for Organic Seed

12938115_10154289580092150_5809797784341428952_nI’m excited to share that State of Organic Seed, 2016 is now available! This report is part of our ongoing project to monitor the status of organic seed in the US and execute recommendations that increase the diversity, quality, and integrity of organic seed available.

Our newest findings allow us to compare data and identify improvements and ongoing needs since our first report in 2011. The recommendations provide a roadmap for building organic seed systems that — beyond delivering more organic seed to farmers — can help address some of our biggest challenges in agriculture: changing climates, market consolidation, and pesticides in our food and environment, to name a few.

Please read and share the report, and then get involved. Here are a few things you can do right now to help us grow a healthier future beginning with organic seed.

Read the full summer newsletter here.

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Just Released! State of Organic Seed, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 8.21.39 AMWe’re proud to announce our first five-year update on the status of organic seed in the US. The report, State of Organic Seed, 2016, is part of an ongoing project to measure progress in meeting the organic seed needs of farmers.

Organic farmers produce food differently, and that means they need different seed for the crops they grow: seed developed to thrive without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and adapted to their local climate and soil conditions.

“Organic seed adapted to our region is of highest importance to our success as an organic farm,” says Richard Moyer of Moyer Family Farm. “Our growing conditions in the Southern Appalachians are very different than other parts of the country and even other parts of the Southeast in terms of humidity, variable temperatures, and the crops we can produce.”

Organic seed is also a regulatory requirement. The USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) requires the use of organic seed when commercially available. As demand for organic food grows – sales in 2015 reached $39 billion – so does demand for organic seed. State of Organic Seed, 2016 shows that supply gaps remain, as most organic farmers still rely on seed that isn’t organic.

But the situation is improving. OSA arrived at this and other conclusions through a number of surveys targeting stakeholder groups, a detailed analysis of organic seed research investments, and listening sessions at organic farming conferences in 2014 and 2015.

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Learn How to Breed Crops in Montana


Adrienne Shelton discusses ‘Who Gets Kissed?’ sweet corn with Doug Baty of Wild Plum Farm in Dixon, Montana — one of the September field tour sites.

Join the Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC) for a two-day classroom and field-based course on plant breeding from September 13 – 14, 2016.

NOVIC is a multi-state partnership between farmers and researchers to address the plant breeding needs of organic agriculture in the Northern U.S. The collaborative includes more than 30 organic farmers and nine researchers.

These nationally renowned organic plant breeders from the University of Wisconsin, Cornell University, Oregon State University, and Organic Seed Alliance will lead this course at Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, Montana, and on five participating farms in Western Montana’s Mission Valley: Fresh Roots Farm, Polson; Good Egg Farm, Moiese; Foothill Farm, St. Ignatius; Wild Plum Farm, Dixon; and Deluge Farm, Camas Prairie. A full schedule will be published soon.

Participants will learn basic principles to evaluate, develop, improve, and maintain plant varieties for their farm. Topics of instruction include: conducting variety trials, setting breeding goals, developing breeding plans, choosing parents, and breeding cross-pollinating and self-pollinating crops.

The course is intended for farmers, researchers, and agricultural students. Prior experience in basic seed growing is recommended. Participants are encouraged to review Organic Seed Alliance’s online tutorials on seed saving and production before the course.

Registration is required and will open in July. Contact OSA’s Kiki Hubbard with questions.

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OSA’s Brook Brouwer to Join WSU Extension

brookOrganic Seed Alliance is pleased to announce that Research and Education Associate Brook Brouwer will soon join Washington State University as its Director of San Juan County Extension.

In his new position, Brouwer will continue to support OSA by collaborating on current and pending pulse and grain research, while working to bring OSA’s expertise in organic seed production research and education to stakeholders in San Juan County. OSA’s outreach in San Juan County has helped expand seed growing and variety trials on the islands in recent years and Brouwer’s new position is an opportunity to further develop regional seed systems in San Juan County and Western Washington.

Brouwer’s expertise in breeding small grains and his passion for organic seed has brought great value to OSA’s programs. This past winter he led a regional symposium on organic plant breeding in the Pacific Northwest. A report on the outcomes of this event will be released in June.

“Working for OSA was the ideal transition from graduate school into the working world of organic seed,” says Brouwer. “I had the opportunity to connect and work with a national community of organic seed producers, plant breeders, and seed and food companies. No other organization acts as such a dedicated convener in the organic seed community.”

Brouwer says he looks forward to building on these partnerships to support the growth of organic seed production in San Juan County and beyond. He starts his new position June 6th, 2016, and can be reached at

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