An Update from the Southeast

SE_mapEfforts to build the foundation for a regional seed system in the Southeast continue to gain momentum. OSA is partnering with organizations and universities on organic variety trials and educational events, and in developing strategic plans for the region.

OSA’s partnership with the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) and Georgia Organics is resulting in a number of on-the-ground projects. For example, CFSA is in its second year of an organic broccoli variety trial. Both CFSA and Georgia Organics are also increasing the number of seed workshops at their annual conferences, and OSA will once again be teaching at the CFSA conference from November 10-12, 2014.

In addition, OSA along with project partners Cornell University, North Carolina State University, and Auburn University, are conducting variety trials on melons, squash, and cucumbers in North Carolina, New York, and Alabama. The project is funded through a grant from the USDA Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) and will go through the next two years. The variety trials support future breeding work to develop varieties resistant to Downy Mildew, Striped Cucumber Beetles, and viruses. Variety trials are being conducted at research stations and on organic farms in each state. A field day to share initial results of the trial will be held August 12, 2014, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville, North Carolina. Learn more about the field day here.

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Happenings in California

Wheat1As California’s dry winter continued through the spring, the future climatic challenges the state faces become ever more immediate, and the need for diverse and resilient agricultural seed systems becomes ever more evident. OSA continues, crop by crop and farmer by farmer, to help organic farmers access more diverse, adapted, and adaptable varieties.

Thanks to generous support from Columbia Foundation, Gaia Fund, the California Wheat Commission, CCOF, Organic Valley, and the USDA Organic Research and Education Initiative, we have a number of projects growing in California.

Vegetable variety trials: In cooperation with Coke Farms in San Juan Bautista and Riverdog Farms in Guida, OSA finished evaluating vegetable varieties for winter and spring regional production, including broccoli, carrots, beets, spinach, kale, and rutabagas. We will be publishing a report from our 2013 and 2014 trials in the coming months. We have more variety trials in the ground for this summer, including specialty red peppers, lettuce, onions, and carrots. See our 2012 California Organic Variety Trials Report for results from our 2012 variety trials.

Silage corn trial: The North Coast of California has a strong organic dairy industry. Many farmers use locally produced corn harvested as a whole plant that is then fermented before being fed to animals. This type of corn is called “silage corn.” There are very few varieties of silage corn that can mature and produce high quantities well in the cool, coastal maritime climate of the north coast. OSA is testing 10 promising varieties to provide local farmers with more silage corn choices.

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What’s a Regional Seed System?

Micaela_Aug 2010_smallerSummer sweet corn: Is there anything better? How about a sweet corn that was developed with organic farmers in mind — an open-pollinated variety that germinates in cool spring conditions without the use of fungicides and demonstrates superb taste?

Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) is a proud collaborator in a participatory plant breeding project that developed just that. In partnership with breeders at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and farmer-breeder Martin Diffley of Organic Farming Works, OSA is taking this soon-to-be-released sweet corn variety to the next level by adapting the original breeding population to the mild growing conditions of the maritime Pacific Northwest region.

With support from the Port Townsend Food Co-op, OSA’s breeders planted a large trial in Sequim, WA, to identify which of these sweet corn plants would thrive in our local climate.

Why is this important? This sweet corn trial is just one example of how regional networks of plant breeders and farmers are supporting national efforts to expand farmer options in organically bred seed — seed that will deliver high-quality crops without the assistance of synthetic fertilizers and other chemical inputs.

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Who’ll Own Our Seed?

broccoliAuthor 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.

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From the Field: Breeding Sweet Corn for Organic Agriculture

Planting an organic sweet corn trial at Nash's Organic Produce

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.

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