Breeding Better Tomatoes for Organic Farmers

TOMI-greenhouseOSA is a partner in the Tomato Organic Management and Improvement (TOMI) project, a multi-state breeding initiative focused on developing disease-resistant tomatoes that have exceptional flavor. Partners include Purdue University, North Carolina State University, University of Wisconsin – Madison, Oregon State University, and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Variety trials and taste tests are being conducted this year in Oregon, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Indiana — all states where there’s intense late blight disease pressure. OSA is producing seed from the breeding lines this summer in our greenhouse located at our Washington research farm (see photo). This project highlights the value of national collaborations where researchers representing different regions work to achieve a shared goal. The benefits include having data from variety trials in multiple states and coordinating breeding activities to maximize time, resources, and expertise. This project is made possible through support from the USDA’s Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI).

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Swiss Chard Breeding is Looking Bright

chard-plant copyOSA has been breeding Swiss chard in collaboration with organic farmers on the Olympic Peninsula for seven years. The project is focused on breeding red chard varieties with more bolt tolerance, which remains a major production challenge for organic farmers. We’re also developing a vibrant magenta chard variety (see photo). These plants came out of a population developed collaboratively by OSA’s current research team; our co-founder, John Navazio; and farmers Marko Colby of Midori Farm, Sebastian Aguilar of Chickadee Farm, and Nash Huber of Nash’s Organic Produce. We’ll be working with organic seed companies to commercially release this magenta variety within the next few years.

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California Hubs Focus on Organic Seed Education, Networking

screens-ca-updateOSA’s California activities are in full swing, with organic plant breeding, variety trials, and educational workshops happening throughout the state. In five regional hubs — the Northeast, Northwest, Bay Area, Sierras, and far South — we’re focused on activities that help California growers share seed cleaning equipment and solve organic seed production challenges. We’re also hosting or participating in a number of workshops this summer, including a field day at an OSA research site in Gilroy (August 14th), a field day at Redwood Seed Company’s farm outside of Manton (September 18th), and a seed production workshop in Santa Cruz (October 16th). Keep checking our events page for updates and details. We also have scholarships available for farmers to attend UC Davis’s seed production and seed business courses. Email OSA’s Leyla Cabugos for more information about participating in a regional hub.

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Congress can do better on GMO labeling

Capitol_Building_Washington_DC-870x300-855x285Both the Senate and House have passed the “DARK Act” (S. 764), a controversial bill that’s been debated for several years now. The bill is being touted as a “compromise” but falls woefully short on requiring mandatory, on-package labeling. The bill instead gives companies — including those already labeling their products — options for disclosing genetically engineered (GE) ingredients in their products that are much less transparent, such as QR codes or 1-800 numbers. The bill also preempts existing and future state labeling laws, including Vermont’s, which went into effect on July 1. Though a national labeling law is ideal, we support strong state legislation when federal requirements don’t go far enough to support consumer choice. We’re also concerned about the absence of clear enforcement provisions in this bill and ambiguous definitions and loopholes that could exempt most GE foods from labeling.

The bill also prohibits certain labels on SEED. We’re concerned about a provision in the preemption section of this bill that prohibits states from requiring clear labeling of GE seed. As an organization that advocates for the organic seed community, including farmer choice in seed free of GE traits, we believe it’s important for organic and other farmers who sell to non-GE markets to have as much information as possible about the seed they’re buying.

Two states require clear labeling of GE seed (VT and VA). This bill will preempt existing and future state requirements for this type of transparency. And, because the definitions in this bill begin to blur the lines between what is GE and what isn’t, it’s that much more important to protect transparency in the seed marketplace (see Sec. 295(b) of the bill).

Call President Obama TODAY. Tell him to veto this bill because Congress can and should do better. It’ll only take a minute. The number is: (202) 456-1111.

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Southeast Collaboration Already Yielding Results

Daniel Parson Oxford FarmOSA is collaborating with universities and organic farmers to address Downy Mildew pressure on cucurbits in the eastern part of the US. The project takes a participatory plant breeding approach and spans five states (New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama) and includes three universities (Cornell, Auburn, and North Carolina State). Michael Mazourek of Cornell is the project lead and recently published variety trial reports for 2014 and 2015 on eOrganic. This trial data helped the project team identify varieties with strong resistance to Downy Mildew. Regional seed companies quickly responded to these findings by making some of the most promising open-pollinated varieties available to growers.

In the field right now are melons, cucumbers, and squash plots. Clemson University featured some of these trials as part of a field day on July 11th focused on managing cucurbit diseases and pests in organic systems. Learn more by contacting Kelly Flynn Gilkerson. Additional field days are planned for August in North Carolina. Contact OSA’s Tony Kleese for more information.

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