Variety trials are important because they allow farmers, plant breeders, and seed companies to evaluate the performance of seed options available. When you conduct a variety trial on your farm, you’re able to see which varieties perform best in your climate and have the quality traits that you value most. Investing a year in a scientific variety trial can minimize the risks of planting a variety you’re unfamiliar with on a large-scale, and can help certified organic farmers identify the best organic seed options available on the market. Variety trials also help farmers, plant breeders, and seed companies find the best varieties to grow out as a seed crop — to increase seed quantities for on-farm use or to sell commercially — and use in breeding projects. Variety trials are a core activity of our research program and a fun way to explore and celebrate crop genetic diversity. OSA’s publication, On-farm Variety Trials: A Guide for Organic Vegetable, Herb and Flower Producers, is the go-to resource for planning, planting, and evaluating a variety trial on your farm.
OSA just returned from an inspiring National Organic Coalition (NOC) membership meeting in Washington, DC, which included a day on Capitol Hill educating members of Congress on a number of organic policy topics. Among several messages delivered was the need to increase research funding that results in more public plant varieties adapted to organic farms and regional climates. We also discussed the costs and burdens associated with GMO contamination in organic seed and other crops. NOC includes more than a dozen organizations and businesses representing organic farmers, processors, consumers, certifiers, researchers, educators, retail businesses, and policy experts. Learn more about NOC here.
Producing food for year-round harvests requires planning ahead. By June most farmers feel like they’re caught up with spring planting, but now is the time to source seed for crops that will extend the harvest into fall, winter, and early spring. At our research farm in Chimacum, Washington, we plant kale and other hardy greens in June and July for fall and winter harvest; we plant chicory in July for winter and spring harvest; and we plant purple sprouting broccoli in late July to early August for a winter and spring harvest the following year. Planting dates will vary by region, so check with your seed company, extension service, or other farmers to select the ideal date for your climate. And consider planting a variety trial to identify the best performing organic varieties for your farm. We’ve expanded our variety trials focused on season extension thanks to support from the Oregon and Washington State Departments of Agriculture Specialty Crops Block Grant Program. See our 2015 purple sprouting broccoli variety trial report. A report on onion, cabbage, and chicory varieties will be released later this year.
Organic seed growers need more mentorship and courses that are comprehensive in scope and combine theoretical and practical instruction. To address this gap, OSA teamed up with the Multinational Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture (MESA) to help experienced farmers pass on their seed knowledge to beginning farmers through a national internship program. The Seed Internship Program was launched last year and is the first to focus on organic seed production.
The new online course announced today is part of this internship program but available to anyone interested in learning how to grow organic seed. Follow the registration directions below so you can get the most out of this FREE course and other resources.
The course runs through the end of the year with more trainings planned for 2017. Participants will have access to monthly webinars, reading lists, online discussion forums, multi-media curriculum, and other materials that collectively serve as a comprehensive resource for learning about and teaching organic seed production. The course supports farmers who are teaching interns how to grow organic seed by providing structured and professional instruction on everything from production practices to seed economics. The trainings also help experienced organic seed growers refine their skills and connect with other growers.
The 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.