Seed Production and Variety  ATTRA Development for Organic Systems  A Publication of ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agric...
breeding to meet the needs of a more sustain-         land grant universities, have moved                     able agricul...
linated or vectored from another plant of the  country, to explain the objectives and tech-same type) rather than hybrid (...
How Farmers Can Participate in Horizontal Selection and Breeding    Professional plant breeders have never focused on bree...
Issues with the conventional seed               tect small growers or farmers who wished toindustry                       ...
three instances in which seed companies that           be required to supply monthly reports                        are li...
inated with GMOs. The sheer number of           A big problem for on-farm seed producersGMOs that have migrated into U.S. ...
The public now believes organic is 100%        come of the internationally publicized court                 GMO-free. Will...
tion: planting a mix of adapted types (landra-     Association—especially in regard to trial-ces) to ensure some survivors...
Much of the U.S. supply of grain seed is contaminated with GMOs.    From tests conducted on commercial-grade certified seed...
GMO presence. The farmer-led move toward develop-                    information, contact Hans Kandel ating specific variet...
cerned Scientists. Washington, DC.              Connolly, Bryan (with C.R. Lawn, ed.). 2005.           p. 33, 36–47.      ...
Books                                                    DeVore, Brian. 2004. The secret lives of seeds.2005 Non-GMO Sourc...
Jones, Stephen. 2004. Breeding resistance to special     Staff. 2004. News shorts: Sweden spreads the bur-           inter...   ATTRA   Page 15
Acknowledgements                  Oregon organic farmers Maud and Tom Powell offered several very                  helpful ...
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Seed Production and Variety Development for Organic Systems

  1. 1. Seed Production and Variety ATTRA Development for Organic Systems A Publication of ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service • 1-800-346-9140 • www.attra.ncat.orgBy Katherine L. Adam Most of the research to develop seed varieties specifically for organic production is in public and partici-NCAT Agriculture patory breeding, and good technical material from such research is increasingly available. The USDA hasSpecialist also funded workshops to teach farmers the principles of participatory breeding for organics, to increase© NCAT 2005 the availability of organic seed. In 2005, however, although there are breeding programs underway, no seed varieties bred specifically for organic production are commercially available.Contents If the community of organic farmers and consumers is sure that it wants an organicOverview ........................... 1 seeds requirement, then the USDA/NOPU.S. Seed Summit ........... 1 decision making process needs to set this kind of deadline. The other alternative isHow is seed producedfor the market? ................ 2 to eliminate the requirement.Issues in organic seed Are the environmental plusses of organicsourcing for commercial seed production worth the burden to thegrowers .............................. 5 growers, in both increased seed costs and,Two major regulatory for a few years at least, limited varietyissues that directly affect availability?U.S. organic farmers ...... 5Quality issues in farmer- Other industry representatives, includingsaved and -traded seed other seed company owners and research-vs. purchased com- ers, believe that the answer lies deeper than co mmercial seed ..................... 8 a r t. lip merely increasing the supply of existing vari- 5CThe global picture ......... 8 ©200 eties raised under organic conditions. TheyTubers and alliums....... 10 Overview are actively seeking to develop new variet- BHandling issues ............. 10 ies bred specifically for organics before such reeding crop plants specificallyConclusion ...................... 10 time as USDA/NOP may set a deadline for for organic production is still in itsReferences ...................... 11 organic farmers to use only organic seeds infancy, although interest is alreadyFurther Resources ........ 12 and propagation materials. well established, to judge by Internet sites on organic seed. The USDA has provided European researchers have studied the par- funds to producers, small seed companies, ticular challenges of organic production—and and universities to hold on-farm workshops by extension the varietal traits that would on organic seed production. Several sources complement it. To address the challenges, list providers of organic seed. But questionsMatt Dillon, director of the Organic Seed about the future of organic seed remain. Alliance, has called for “participatory breed- ing” that uses farmer and university breedingATTRA is the national sustain- Robert L. Johnston of Johnny’s Seeds ques-able agriculture information collaboration.(1)service operated by the National tions whether seed companies will want toCenter for Appropriate Technol- invest in developing organic-specific variet- ies and does not advocate that the USDA’s U.S. Seed Summitogy, through a grant from theRural Business-Cooperative Ser-vice, U.S. Department of Agricul-ture. These organizations do not National Organic Program (USDA/NOP) In the fall of 2003, a U.S. “Summit for Seedsrecommend or endorse prod- mandate a requirement for organic seed. In and Breeds for 21st Century Agriculture”ucts, companies, or individu-als. NCAT has offices a February 2004 statement posted on his set as its key goal for the future of publicin Fayetteville, Arkansas, company’s Web site,, breeding, “development of ‘a road map forButte, Montana, andDavis, California. ���� he says: invigorating public domain plant and animal
  2. 2. breeding to meet the needs of a more sustain- land grant universities, have moved able agriculture.’”(2) This followed several increasingly to consolidated private seed companies. Factors precipitating this decades of privatization of genetic resources shift include changes in university fund- (chiefly through patenting of “intellectual ing with greater private linkage and an property”), a trend bitterly resisted in parts increased focus on genomics [implying of the world with the greatest biodiversity genetic manipulation of seed to induce and where indigenous people had selected desired traits].(2) and saved seed for thousands of years.(3) By 1990 China had banned plant hunt- How is seed produced for ers from its remote interior and refused to the market? export viable seed of certain native medicinal plants (such as dong quai) to supply a poten- Commercial seed production starts with a tial industry in the West. India, with plans breeder who develops a new variety. A por- to become self-sufficient in seed production, tion of the original “breeder stock” always and perhaps become a major exporter, con- stays in the hands of the person who has siders indigenous seed genetics to be national developed that variety. Considered the pur- intellectual property rights, and it has vigor- est form, breeder stock constitutes the “gold ously resisted Western patent encroachment. standard” for that variety, according to Dr. In a landmark decision on March 8, 2005, Jeff McCormick. A portion of the breeder stock becomes the parent of a larger quantity the European Patent Office (EPO) upheld of foundation stock. The institution associ- the revocation in its entirety of a patent on a ated with the breeder controls the production fungicidal product derived from seeds of the of foundation stock, and in turn supervises Neem, a tree indigenous to the Indian sub- production of registered seed for distribu- continent. (For more information, see www. tion to licensees, such as seed companies. These companies, in turn, contract (often The Michael Fields Agricultural Institute with farmers) for a large quantity of certified (MFAI), a planner of the 2003 U.S. Sum- seed. The final stage is production of seed mit and strong advocate of seed breeding in from parent stock of certified (or select) seed the public interest, summarizes some impli- for general distribution through commercial cations for U.S. farmers of the shift toward channels, although certified seed may be the privatization. final stage for large-scale grain production. Select is a term used more for vegetable seed, In the last century [1901–2000] a large portion of the breeding of food and feed comparable to certified for grains.(5) crops was done by the public sector (uni- For information on university foundation versities and USDA). However, in the last two decades, as changes in ownership and seed stock programs, see the Web sites of patenting laws have come about, large most land-grant universities. Seed compa- agrichemical-pharmaceutical companies nies routinely drop older varieties in favor have purchased smaller seed companies, of new ones (often hybridized, plant variety leading to greater concentration with a protected, and, sometimes, patented). This strong focus on biotechnology.(4) practice gave rise in the 1980s to grassroots MFAI asserts that, at the same time, efforts—epitomized by organizations like the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE)—to preserve Public expenditures in breeding have older varieties through seed-saving networks. declined, and there has been an erosion within public institutions in their ability to SSE organized backyard gardeners to raise breed[plants] and [to] train breeders.(4) and distribute seeds of heirloom vegetable crops that might be especially adapted to dis- Dillon (a Breeding Summit participant) pro- crete geographical regions, might form part vides a fuller rationale for the decline in pub- of the heritage of an indigenous (or other) lic expenditures. population, and, most important of all, could Public seed breeding efforts, once pre- be saved by the grower from year to year© dominantly in the public sector through because they are “open-pollinated” (self-pol-Page 2 ATTRA Seed Production and Variety Development for Organic Systems
  3. 3. linated or vectored from another plant of the country, to explain the objectives and tech-same type) rather than hybrid (produced arti- niques of “participatory breeding” and seedficially by controlled cross-breeding). saving. By 2004 this approach was bearing fruit in the Pacific Northwest, led by WildCommercial-scale organic production requires Garden Seeds, Philomath, Oregon—one ofseed stocks (both open-pollinated and hybrid) the more advanced among the small group ofwith proven reliability—especially natural breeders focused on re-introducing diseaseresistance to insects and diseases, as well resistance into popular strains of lettuce andas natural vigor to germinate promptly and kale for organic production.(7) On 11 acresout compete weeds. Good flavor and quality of certified organic trial ground, Washing-typically are considered more important than ton State University wheat breeder Stephenshippability. Additional attributes making for Jones has developed wheat varieties suitedsuccessful organic propagation are beginning to organic production in the Pacific North-to be identified.(1) west by drawing samples of pre-1950 wheatsRecently, organizations such as the Organic from seedbanks and crossing them to mod-Seed Alliance (OSA) and the Public Seed ern lines, to take advantage of improvementsInitiative (Cornell) have outlined a new pub- but retain traits important in the era preced-lic participatory model for breeding organic ing chemical agriculture. Five varieties areseeds. The model aims to strike a middle already consistently producing higher yieldscourse between the inexperience of seed-sav- for Washington state organic wheat farmers,ing farmers and any special-interest bias in but release of the new varieties is still sev-formal research. Prior to training, farmers eral years off.(7, 8) The University of Min-often lack the skills to select traits impor- nesota has identified hard red spring wheattant for enhancing organic production. They cultivars for organic production.(9) Othermay also lack resources to carry on multi- innovators include Lindsey du Toit, Washing-year development of seed lines. Leaving ton State University horticulturist, and Johnthe research agenda in the hands of institu- Navazio of OSA.tions simply accelerates the movement toward Seeds of Change is leading the way in devel-genomics and patentable outcomes. oping summer squash for organic production,In 1999 the Northern Plains Sustainable especially zucchinis, emphasizing large cano-Agriculture Society (NPSAS) undertook pies to shade out weeds, resistance to weathera three-state farmer-driven, participatory swings, adequate yields, and flavor. A pre-breeding program for organic varieties that liminary evaluation of heirloom varieties atis still ongoing. See Cornell under organic conditions has identi-Club.htm for information on NPSAS’s Farmer fied a forgotten cantaloupe with superior fla-Breeding Project and organic variety trials, vor. ‘Hannah’s Choice’ thrives under organicfunded by USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture conditions, when grown for local markets andResearch and Education (SARE) program not for long-distance shipping.(7)and the Organic Farming Research Foun-dation (OFRF). Another ongoing project is Farmer compensationOregon Tilth’s ambitious Farmer Cooperative Exactly how farmers participating in breed-Genome Project. ing the new organic varieties will be compen- sated for their time is not clear, except thatOther universities and organic seed compa- the farmers will ensure organic versions ofnies are beginning to work with genetically their favorite regional varieties for their owndiverse, open-pollinated plant populations, as use. Neither has anyone offered a clear dis-well as hybrids, to breed varieties with mul- tribution model for the new varieties. Onetiple traits conferring “horizontal resistance,” possibility is the collaborative model (like theideally suited to organic production. California Sweet Potato Growers Group thatWorkshops, many funded by USDA/SARE distributes the virus-free planting materialgrants, are reaching farmers around the produced by University of California ATTRA Page 3
  4. 4. How Farmers Can Participate in Horizontal Selection and Breeding Professional plant breeders have never focused on breeding for horizontal resistance, at least for the past 65 years. During the 1960s, many plant breeders also began to doubt the profitability of breeding for vertical resistance (narrow selection for one or very few specific traits). The commercial life of most vertically resistant cultivars was too short to justify the amount of necessary work. The short market life of new introductions, combined with the development of improved crop protection chemicals and the financial involvement of chemical industries in breeding, led to abandon- ment of resistance breeding altogether, in favor of crop protection by chemicals. At present, the world spends about nine billion dollars annually on pesticides. Despite this, pre-harvest crop losses due to pests and diseases are estimated at 24 percent. In food crops alone, these losses are enough to feed about one billion people. The only effective means of overcoming corporate and scientific opposition to horizontal resistance (broad selection for an array of resistance traits) is to make plant breeding as public and as widespread as possible. Fortunately, breed- ing crops for horizontal resistance can be undertaken in the public interest, according to R.A. Robinson, author of the seminal work Return to Resistance: Breeding Crops To Reduce Pesticide Dependency.(6) Robinson envisioned breeding groups composed of farmers, hobby gardeners, green activists, environmentalists, or university students, working with a reasonably wide genetic base of susceptible plants. It is not necessary to find a good source of resistance, as when breeding for vertical resistance. Transgressive segregation within a population of susceptible plants will usually accumu- late all the horizontal resistance needed. Should this not occur, merely widening the original genetic base will probably remedy the situation. Transgressive segregation, a common term in plant breeding, is “the segregation of individuals in the F2 or a later generation of a cross that shows a more extreme development of a character than either parent gene.” (See In other words, after the initial cross, in successive generations desirable traits and combinations of traits tend to become more pronounced in certain individual plants. A second step is the use of recurrent mass selection as a breeding method. Robinson originally recommended about ten to twenty original parents. Dr. Jeff McCormick, of Garden Medicinals and Culinaries, recommends fifty to one hundred, usually high-quality modern cultivars, but also some older landraces, for exposure to cross-pollination in all combinations. The progeny should total some thousands of individuals that are screened for resistance by being cultivated without any crop protection chemicals. The majority of this early screening population dies, and the insect and disease pests do most of the work of screening. The survivors become the parents of the next generation. This process is repeated until the research group determines that enough horizontal resistance has accumulated. Usually, 10 to 15 generations of recurrent mass selection will produce high levels of horizontal resistance to all locally important pests. The process could take ten to fifteen years in temperate climates, but less where more than one cycle per year could be realized. McCormick has recently streamlined the process suggested by Robinson in 1996 to about five generations. Recurrent mass selection must be performed “on-site”—that is, in the area of future cultivation, at the time of year of future cultivation, and according to the future farming system (i.e., organic production). This will produce new cultivars that are in balance with the local agro-ecosystem. only to its members). Plant breeding clubs with Cornell University in Cornell’s Public share seeds among their own members, and Seed Initiative, under a 2004 USDA organic the membership model has emerged as the farm research grant, for expansion of on- preferred method for organic farmers to farm vegetable breeding, on-farm trials, obtain transplants. The Organic Seed Alli- and farmer education to develop and deliver ance calls for “developing new relationships improved vegetable varieties for organic sys- and exploring novel avenues of collaboration tems. According to a NOFA-NY newsletter, to bring quality seed to the organic move- [A]ppropriate procedures to manage the ment.”(10) In the U.S., plant breeding clubs transfer of these materials [vegetable generally include a group of farmers assisted germplasm] between breeders and to our by a university researcher or other technical trialing network are in place that pre- assistance provider. serve the originators’ rights, if desired.(11) The Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY) continues to workPage 4 ATTRA Seed Production and Variety Development for Organic Systems
  5. 5. Issues with the conventional seed tect small growers or farmers who wished toindustry save (and sometimes sell) seed from their ownHeretofore, the increasingly consolidated crops.(13) So far, this has affected mainlyseed industry has served as the main engine U.S. commodity grain crops. At the end ofof commercialization and distribution of new 2004, owners of patents on genetically engi-introductions by producing certified (for grain neered varieties had filed 90 lawsuits, involv-crops) and registered (for vegetable variet- ing 147 farmers and 39 small businesses,ies) seed. The industry has sought greater alleging seed patent violations.(14)returns for its crucial service by acquiringintellectual property rights to seeds of unique Issues in organic seedvarieties, limiting the number of varieties sourcing for commercialsold, and most significantly, finding advan-tageous legal or legislative avenues. A main growersattraction of biotechnology for seed compa- In setting as a key goal for the future of publicnies is enhanced worldwide market share, breeding, “development of ‘a road map fornot improved yields (as the case of Bt corn invigorating public domain plant and animalhas shown). Accordingly, Gunnar Rundgren, breeding to meet the needs of a more sus- Spresident of the International Federation of tainable agriculture,’” the 2003 Seed Sum- ee the newOrganic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) mit committed itself to the totally new area of IFOAM pub-—concurring with the assessment of World- breeding for organic production. In doing so,Watch Institute— asserts that it shifted ground beyond increasing the sup- lication, ply of currently available varieties of organic Genetic Engineering in the case of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) there are no benefits for either seed to developing new varieties designed vs. Organic Farming, consumers or producers—only for the specifically for organic production. at companies producing and selling them. If farmers feel they need herbicide-resistant varieties, that is because they are locked Two major regulatory into a production system that depends on issues that directly affect chemical inputs… [a system] that leads to further degradation of the environment, U.S. organic farmers increased dependency of farmers and more risks for everybody.(12) Should U.S. organic producers be required to use organic seed?Acquisition of exclusive ownership of seed Seed companies complain bitterly that forvarieties is limited under the 1970 Plant the past two years organic farmers have usedVariety Protection Act, which safeguards the availability exemption in the USDA/NOPthe rights of farmers and gardeners to use standards to avoid buying organic seed.their own saved seed, and the rights of plant Organic seed may be more expensive, andbreeders to use PVP varieties for breeding farmers may have to go outside their usualnew varieties, while affording seed develop- seed sources to find it. Farmers also sayers a means to recoup their investment. Lob- that organic seed is simply not available forbying groups demanded protection for small their preferred varieties. Because the rulefarmers in the PVPA legislation. Seedsav- that encourages the planting of organic seeding farmers and gardeners had become con- is relatively new, many types of organic seedcerned by the European ban on many tradi- have been in short supply. This situation istional open-pollinated varieties as part of a improving, as organic production for the seedprogram of varietal “standardization.” market grows. Organic certifying agents dif-However, under an obscure 2001 U.S. fer in their interpretations of this regulation,Supreme Court decision (Pioneer Hi-Bred which simply states that the producer mustInternational vs. J.E.M. Ag Supply), com- use organically grown seeds except “whenpanies for the first time could freely patent an equivalent organically produced varietyplant varieties under the 1795 U.S. Utility is not commercially available.” Some certi-Patent law, without any reservations to pro- fiers require only that a farmer ATTRA Page 5
  6. 6. three instances in which seed companies that be required to supply monthly reports are likely sources for organic seed cannot on exemptions granted for non-organic provide a specific variety. Where a farmer seed. NOP indicated that they are willing to sponsor a database, but are expecting has found organic seed of the desired vari- ASTA to provide the data. NOSB mem- ety, but it is of poor quality, some certifiers bers [present] questioned the scope of this have not required the farmer to use the low- project.(16) quality seed (i.e., seed with poor germina- tion, low purity, low test weight, etc.). In The problem of varietal “equivalence” has this instance, the certifier is interpreting the emerged mainly in vegetable production. word “equivalent” in the rule to include seed Seed companies acknowledge that many, quality characteristics. The quality prob- practically identical vegetable varieties are lem occurs mainly when an organic farmer sold under different names by different sup- attempts to use “bin-run,” on-farm produced pliers—in part to get around trademark seed that is not certified. or copyright issues. Growers have appar- ently been claiming to their certifiers that However, in 2005 NOFA-NY began caution- an organic variety under a different name ing its certified organic farmers (mainly veg- is not equivalent to their preferred variety. etable growers) to use organic seed. In the (Seed companies have favored interpretation fall of 2004 NOFA staff compiled an updated of the regulation as “kind,” rather than “vari- organic seed list that included organic variet- ety” equivalence. For more on this question, ies available in 2005 and comparable con- see the statement by Rob Johnson, at www. ventional varieties.(11) For certified organic Other farmers argue that farmers in the U.S. as a whole, the access high prices alone exempt them from using problem seems to have been solved for now organic seed. by the certified organic sourcing service the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s Some farm support organizations counter Save Our Seed Project has begun providing that farmers should be willing to pay higher to growers.(15) prices to support the efforts of seed compa- nies to produce organic versions of the major crops. An article in The Land asserts that there is no shortage of any type of organic Any grower who wants to plant certified organic seeds may sub- seed for 2005 for Minnesota farmers, and mit a list of the cultivars/ varieties sought, along with the quantity they should voluntarily use organic seed.(17) needed. CFSA’s Save Our Seed Project will then send to the grower Some farm support groups (and the Ameri- a list of all of the certified organic sources for every cultivar. If no sources exist, the project will send the grower full documentation can Seed Trade Association’s Organic Divi- of this circumstance, for the grower’s certification agent. sion) have proposed an integrated national database of organic seed availability to fore- Organic cultivars are currently available for seeds, tubers, and root- stall the “three-call” rule-of-thumb. The stocks. Not available for 2005 are mixtures (for example, mesclun), trees, and seedlings. Growers can submit lists by FAX (706-788- hard question of determining “equivalence” 0071), mail (Carolina Farm Stewardship Ass’n, 49 Circle D Dr., Colbert, remains, but it should subside with increased GA 30628), or e-mail ( availability of varieties especially bred for organic production. Should testing be required to The American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) has recently met with NOP to request insure that seed producers do not that NOP manage an organic seed database. use or distribute seed that may According to the Organic Observer: contain unintended genetically modified material? ASTA would like to see an interactive database established to provide real-time Requiring testing for GM material is another access to seed suppliers and the public contentious issue. Some organic grain pro- regarding availability of organic seed vari- ducers have had export lots rejected by for- eties. ASTA also requested that certifiers eign buyers because the lots were contam-Page 6 ATTRA Seed Production and Variety Development for Organic Systems
  7. 7. inated with GMOs. The sheer number of A big problem for on-farm seed producersGMOs that have migrated into U.S. food crops is that certain crops with GMO analoguesleaves the organic industry in a quandary. already exhibit pervasive, low-level GMO con-It’s an immediate problem for crops such as tamination. According to a 2004 study con-canola, soy, and corn, where GMO variet- ducted by the Union of Concerned Scientistsies predominate, and it threatens potential (UCS) on conventionally produced U.S. soy-migration of stray GMO material to related beans, canola, and corn, representing a wideweeds and nearby food crops. Two schools array of popular varieties with no history ofof thought have proposed two different solu- genetic engineering, “more than two-thirdstions. of 36 conventional corn, soy, and canola seed batches contained traces of DNA from geneti-The American Seed Testing Association cally engineered crop varieties.” The reportfavors a system of testing organic seed to cer- concluded, “The US may soon find it impos-tify it as GMO-free before it can be planted sible to guarantee that any portion of its foodor sold. On the other hand, the American supply is free of gene-altered elements, a situ-Seed Trade Association guidelines include ation that could seriously disrupt the exportthis statement: of US foods, seeds, and oils. Many believe it ASTA strongly supports that organic cer- could also gravely harm the domestic market tification under the NOP is a process, not for organic foods.” The lab tests were com- product certification. . . . ASTA strongly missioned by UCS and conducted on certi- maintains that any movement toward organic seed testing or product certifica- fied seed.(21) Many scientists, universities, tion is not only counter to USDA and NOP farmers, and other have questioned plans policy, but also the U.S. seed industry for GMO wheat. Canola is a major oilseed; and organic producers at large. It is well domestic corn and soybeans are major ingre- recognized in numerous food and agri- dients in many products—including starches, cultural production standards, including emulsifiers, and animal feeds. organic standards, that zero is not possi- ble. Furthermore, any movement by seed Some sources have suggested that bacteria producers to respond to such unrealistic can spread GMO material from a genetically market demands will not only undermine engineered crop to a nearby unrelated crop the viability of the U.S. government’s organic policy but could erode the U.S. or weed. In fact, this mimics the process seed industry’s future participation in the used in genetic engineering.(22) organic market.(18) These developments raise serious questionsNew procedures are increasingly able to iden- about geographically indiscriminate on-farmtify GMOs, even in large quantities of seed, production of organic seedstocks for grainswith a high degree of accuracy. Some U.S. and oilseeds. Moreover, many varieties of GEexport grains are tested, and many suppli- crops—including “pharmacrops”— are beingers of organic grain seed verify that their grown as trial crops in undisclosed locationsstocks are free only to a certain tolerance level in the U.S.(23) As a result, some western(usually .05 or .01). Tolerances have yet organic growers increasingly discriminateto be set by NOP. Monsanto recently con- among seed suppliers.(24)ducted a lab analysis seminar at its St. Louisfacility to demonstrate the latest methods of Industry positions on testing fordetection. European scientists have detected GMOsGMOs in 100% of samples tested.(19) Iowa Organic spokespeople like Jim Riddle,State University has developed a new soft- recently elected to chair the National Organicware program, using weather data and other Standards Board, point out that required test-geographical parameters, that can predict ing for GMOs would deeply alter the conceptgenetic purity at harvest for hybrid corn in of organics from a process-based system to athe field, to aid farmers in marketing deci- testing system. (This is also the position ofsions.(20) ASTA.) However, there is a marketing ATTRA Page 7
  8. 8. The public now believes organic is 100% come of the internationally publicized court GMO-free. Will the public accept a chance case in which he was involved with Monsanto of pharma-crop “pig vaccines” in its organic underscores the advisability of commercial corn flakes? Or will it demand testing? farmers going back every few years to a reli- A system of tolerances for GMO contamina- able source of organic seed of their preferred tion may eventually need to be established variety. This practice guards against dis- for certified organic crops—especially wind- ease buildup, inadvertent contamination of pollinated crops like some grains and oil- the stock, and reversion of the crop to unde- seeds.(25) Governmental agreements, espe- sirable traits. This reliable source can be cially on harmonization of organic standards, certified seed from a conservator university would open the door for U.S. organic farmers or commercial seed company. Jeff McCor- to participate in foreign trade. Other sugges- mick, a pioneer new-breed seed company tions include setting aside areas of the world owner, has suggested that vegetable farmers still remote enough to produce foundation growing a contract seed crop may find it to stock of wind-pollinated crops or establish- their advantage to go back to the company ing a U.S. government public seed bank of every year for “select” (certified) seed for pure stock (before it is too late). the vegetables they are raising for market, as well.(5) Quality issues in farmer- saved and -traded seed The global picture While European Union (EU) and global stan- vs. purchased dards are beyond the scope of this publica- commercial seed tion, there was extensive discussion of the The highest quality grain seed sold to farm- need for global harmonization of organic ers is “certified,” with minimum standards standards at the 2004 World Seed Confer- for purity, germination, test weight, true- ence in Rome. (See Proceedings at www. ness to type, and absence of physical dam- Differing standards, of course, age. Ideally, seed for planting organic grain affect trade policy, and intense negotiations crops would be both “certified” and “certi- between the U.S. and the European Union fied organic.” Shortages of certified organic continue. As of 2005, some GMO plantings grain seed have sometimes led farmers to in Europe, as well as exports of U.S. Bt corn use “bin-run” seed from a nearby organic to Europe, had been approved. farm or from a previous year’s harvest that Another major issue at the World Seed Con- (while it is “certified organic”) may contain ference was intellectual property rights, or the light or broken seed, weed seed and other implications of governmentally approved lists foreign matter, or pathogens. Such seed is of permitted varieties. This is a special con- also likely to germinate poorly. This is not invariably the case, of course. According to cern for traditional farmers in many coun- many certifiers’ interpretations of NOP reg- tries, who are used to saving seed from year ulations, farmers can by-pass available low- to year and have over the centuries devel- quality organic seed in favor of untreated oped unique landraces. A recent example conventional seed of higher quality. is in Iraq, where a new report by GRAIN and Focus on the Global South cites a U.S. Value in going back to certified edict in occupied Iraq that “prevents farmers seed every few years if you save from saving their seeds and effectively hands your own over the seed market to transnational corpo- rations.” (See Although Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser This was also reported in In Good Tilth, Feb- asserts that he selected and saved seed most ruary 2005.(26) of his 35 years of growing canola crops— thereby developing a landrace adapted to Sas- Traditional practices of indigenous farmers katchewan conditions—the unfavorable out- are mostly compatible with organic produc-Page 8 ATTRA Seed Production and Variety Development for Organic Systems
  9. 9. tion: planting a mix of adapted types (landra- Association—especially in regard to trial-ces) to ensure some survivors, despite vaga- ing and proprietary rights—see the handyries of weather and insect/disease attacks; use table in the November 2004 issue of Seed-of older varieties geared to minimizing capital World.(27)investment; hand-harvesting and other labor-intensive practices precluded by modern, uni- Geography of organic seed production hasform, machine-harvestable varieties; and use ramifications mainly in the context of GMOs.of labor-intensive crop protection strategies Spain and Italy raise seed for the rest oflike hand weeding and watering, rather than Europe. Traditionally U.S. garden seed haspurchased off-farm inputs. For information been produced in Idaho and other arid Weston breeding in Europe compared to the U.S, Coast and Intermountain regions. Relativesee SeedWorld, November 2004.(27) severity of pest and disease pressures is aBut can hand labor feed burgeoning urban major consideration in producing qualitypopulations, or is it a relic of a younger, less seed. However, labor costs for seed produc-densely populated Earth, where 98% of peo- tion became an issue in the 1980s, lead-ple grew their own food? In the best of all ing to seed production for commercial grow-possible worlds, a blend of traits uniquely ers as far away as Taiwan and Argentina—aadapted to organic production (not only development worrisome on several counts,resistance to local pests and diseases, but not the least of which is the newly announcedimproved vigor and flavor) will result from Chinese plan to invest billions of dollars inhorizontal breeding. This implies a far more Argentina and Brazil in return for access todecentralized food production system than land and natural resources, an agreementwe have at present. finalized at the recently concluded (Decem-For a more detailed comparison of the dif- ber 11, 2004) Summit in Chile. Argentinaferent positions taken by the European Seed has been identified as an emerging leader inAssociation and the American Seed Trade GMO crop production.(22) Section from the National Organic Standards. What the New Rule Says a) The producer must use organically grown seeds, annual seedlings, and planting stock, Except, That, 1) Nonorganically produced, untreated seeds and planting stock may be used to produce an organic crop when an equivalent organically produced variety is not commercially available. Except, That, organically pro- duced seed must be used for the production of edible sprouts; 2) Nonorganically produced seeds and planting stock that have been treated with a substance included on the National List of synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production may be used to produce an organic crop when an equivalent organically produced or untreated variety is not commercially available. 3) Nonorganically produced annual seedlings may be used to produce an organic crop when a temporary vari- ance has been granted in accordance with §205.290(a)(2); 4) Nonorganically produced planting stock to be used to produce a perennial crop may be sold, labeled, or represented as organically produced only after the planting stock has been maintained under a system of organic management for a period of no less than 1 year; and 5) Seeds, annual seedlings, and planting stock treated with prohibited substances may be used to produce an organic crop when the application of the materials is a requirement of Federal or State phytosanitary regula- tions. —National Organic Rule §205.204, Seeds and planting stock practice standard ATTRA Page 9
  10. 10. Much of the U.S. supply of grain seed is contaminated with GMOs. From tests conducted on commercial-grade certified seed, The Union of Concerned Scientists, Washington, D.C., concluded that “more than two-thirds of 36 conventional corn, soy and canola seed batches contained traces of DNA from genetically engineered crop varieties in lab tests commissioned by UCS.” Moreover, UCS warned that “The US may soon find it impossible to guarantee that any portion of its food supply is free of gene-altered elements, a situ- ation that could seriously disrupt the export of US foods, seeds, and oils.”(21) Tubers and alliums © Commercial growers rarely try to produce their own starts or sets; they rely on spe- being distributed at a series of SARE-funded cialized suppliers or on grower associations farmer workshops and are also available on to provide high quality propagation material CD from Saving Our Seed, Carolina Farm each year. (For more information on how this Stewardship: Order by fax (706-788-0071), works for sweetpotato starts, see the section mail (Carolina Farm Stewardship Ass’n, 49 on cultivars and propagation in the ATTRA Circle D Dr., Colbert, GA 30628), or e-mail publication Sweetpotato: Organic Production. ( Also see Topics covered in the handling publica- background.html.) In 2004 growers tempo- tion include dry processing, wet processing, rarily obtained organic vegetable starts from threshing and cleaning equipment, storage their associations or even from state depart- and longevity, seed dormancy, germination ments of agriculture, in the absence of com- enhancement techniques, labeling, record- mercial production. keeping, shipping, and federal and state seed laws. Handling issues Recently, the Saving Our Seeds Project, with Conclusion funding from USDA’s Sustainable Agricul- The trend toward globalization, centraliza- ture Research and Education Program, has tion, standardization, uniformity, substitution published several detailed seed production of capital for labor (and even for manage- guides, including Seed Processing and Storage. ment) in agriculture underlies many of the These publications are available on the SOS seed conundrums that organic agriculture Web site, They are faces. Most new seed varieties in the West have come out of university research, funded by industry. A countermovement is gathering Seeds for sprouting momentum to protect indigenous landraces The National Organic Standards require that seeds for producing from Western patents by securing intellec- organic sprouts be organic, with no “availability” exception. In late tual property rights for traditional landraces/ 2004 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced genetics that have been improved over thou- plans to overhaul regulations (set in 2000) for the production of all sands of years by indigenous farmers. Many sprouts and seeds intended for sprouting, to reduce microbial food grassroots seed conservation groups are sav- safety hazards. No report is expected for some time. Some states ing varietal types from mandated extinction. also regulate production and handling of seeds for sprouting. For a Solutions are emerging for specific proce- comprehensive treatment of sprouting seeds and additional sources dural issues that have arisen with the imple- of information, see the ATTRA publication Sprouts and Wheatgrass Production. For food safety information involving production of mentation of the USDA National Organic sprouts, see Standards—such as equivalence and perhaps even testing, as well as setting tolerances forPage 10 ATTRA Seed Production and Variety Development for Organic Systems
  11. 11. GMO presence. The farmer-led move toward develop- information, contact Hans Kandel ating specific varieties for organics through participatory kande001@umn.edubreeding, while in its infancy, is well underway. (10) Staff. 2004. Of note. Organic Trade Associa- tion News Flash. February 4. p. 2.References (11) NOFA certification staff. 2004. NOFA-NY Cer-(1) Colley, Michaela, and Matthew Dillon. 2004. tified Organic, LLC. Organic Farms, Folks The next great challenge: Breeding seed for organic systems. Organic Farming & Foods. Mid-Fall. p. 5. Research Foundation Information Bulletin. (12) Rundgren, Gunnar. 2003. EU organic seed Winter. p. 1, 4, 5, 29. regulation adapts to reality. The Organic(2) Dillon, Matthew. 2003. E-mail attachment. Standard. July. p. 16. Summit on Seeds and Breeds for 21st Cen- (13) Guebert, Alan. 2001. Supreme Court blesses tury Agriculture, Washington, DC, Septem- plant patents; bye-bye bin-run seed. The ber 6–8, 2003. 3 p. Land (MN). December 21. p. 3.(3) Kelemu, Segenet, et al. 2003. Harmonizing the (14) Center for Food Safety. 2005. Monsanto vs. agricultural biotechnology debate for U.S. Farmers. the benefit of African farmers. African Journal of Biotechnology. October. 50 p. press_release1.13.05.cfm Also: Staff. 2005. Corporate farming manuscripts/manuscripts2003/ notes: Monsanto vs. U.S Farmers report(4) Staff. 2003. MFAI participates in summit on released. Center for Rural Affairs. seed breeding in the public interest. MFAI February. p. 3. newsletter. September. p. 1. (15) Organic Trade Association Staff. 2005. News & Trends: Sourcing Organic Seed. The(5) McCormick, Jeff. 2005. “Saving Our Seed” Organic Report. p. 7. Conference, Twin Oaks, Louisa, VA, Febru- Also: Rakita, Cricket. 2005. Seed sourc- ary 24, 2005. ing. Carolina Farm Stewardship News. Dr. McCormick is founder and previous owner March–April. p. 4. of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and current owner of Garden Medicinals and Culi- naries. He has also served on the Board of (16) Staff. 2004. Database development. The Directors of the Seed Savers Exchange. Organic Observer. December. p. 3.(6) Robinson, R.A. 1996. Return to Resistance: (17) King, Tim. 2004. Growing organic seed fits Breeding Crops To Reduce Pesticide Depen- farm’s rotation. The Land. December 17. dency. AgAccess, Davis, California, and p. 9A–11A. IDRC Books, Ottawa, Canada. (18) Condon, Mark. 2003. The View of the Ameri-(7) Rich, Deborah K. 2004. Seed crossings bring can Seed Trade Association on Organic back old traits for organic farmers. The Agriculture. p. 2. Chronicle. August 28. 3 p. (19) Staff. 2004. Genetic ID Augsburg receives per-(8) Jones, Stephen. 2004. Breeding resistance to fect scores in ISTA proficiency test. The special interests. OFRF Information Bulle- Non-GMO Source. August. p. 15. tin. Fall. p. 4–7. (20) Brook, Rhonda J. 2002. Pollen tracker. Farm(9) Kandel, Hans, and Paul Porter. 2004. Small Industry News. mid-February. p. 30–32. grain cultivar selection for organic systems. (21) Mellon, Margaret, and Jane Rissler. 2004. The CornerPost. Fall. p. 11. Gone to Seed: Transgenic Contaminants in Includes table of varieties. For more the Traditional Seed Supply. Union of ATTRA Page 11
  12. 12. cerned Scientists. Washington, DC. Connolly, Bryan (with C.R. Lawn, ed.). 2005. p. 33, 36–47. Organic Seed Production and Saving. Also:, Phillabaum, Larry. 2005. Change NOFA, Barre, MA. blows in on the wind: Pollen from trans- Order handbook for $7.95 plus 2.00 s/h from genic grass runs amok in Oregon. In Good NOFA Handbooks Tilth. February 15. p. 12. c/o Elaine Peterson Transgenic effects were found outside the 411 Sheldon Rd. genus of the test grass and 13 miles distant. Barre, MA 01005 For more information visit(22) Cummings, Claire Hope. 2005. Trespass. WorldWatch. January–February. p. 24–35. Participatory breeding for organics(23) Staff. 2005. Government forced to disclose Pepper Genetics and Genomes locations of test sites of biopharmaceutical crops [in Hawaii]. February 8. Selfers and Crossers press_release2.8.05.cfm Lipson, Mark. 2005. Presentation to NCAT Organic seed research programs staff. April 6. Cornell. Public Seed Initiative(25) Staff. 2004. Should there be a GMO tolerance for organic? The Non-GMO Source. April. Organic Seed Alliance p. 1–2. Staff. 2005. Iraq’s patent law hurts farmers. In Seeds of Change Good Tilth. February 15. p. 20. Dansby, Angela. 2004. EU vs. US: Is a com- field_report_39.asp promise position possible? Research Washington State University exemptions and patents sticking points. SeedWorld. November. Chart. p. 9. Other resourcesFurther Resources If a source is not indicated, contact your local librarian to order the publication or article through Interlibrary Loan.Organic seed production materials Publications or articles cited in the text are not included.Bean Seed Production: An Organic Seed Production Manual Farmers Guide to GMOs Available from BeanSeedProductionVer_1pt4.pdf RAFI-USA 274 Pittsboro Elementary School RoadIsolation Distances Pittsboro, NC 27312 919-542-1396 IsolationDistancesVer_1pt5.pdf Journey to Forever.Seed Processing and Storage Seed resources, library. SeedProcessingandStorageVer_1pt3.pdf Moeller, David R./Farmer’s Legal Action Group, Inc.,Tomato Seed Production: An Organic Seed and Michael Sligh/Rural Advancement Production Manual Foundation International. 2004. Farmers’ Guide to GMOs. 51 p. TomatoSeedProductionVer_2pt6.pdf www.flaginc.orgPage 12 ATTRA Seed Production and Variety Development for Organic Systems
  13. 13. Books DeVore, Brian. 2004. The secret lives of seeds.2005 Non-GMO Sourcebook (global) Land Stewardship Letter. April–June. 500 suppliers of non-GMO products and ser- p. 1, 14–15. vices, including seeds and grains. Features non-GMO corn, soy, and canola grains and Dillon, Matthew. 2005. “We have the seeds”: Mon- organic seeds. Also experts for GMO testing, santo now the largest vegetable seed pro- identity preservation, and organic certifica- ducer [with purchase of Seminis]. The tion. $24. Organic Broadcaster. March–April. p. 800-854-0586 2–4. Dillon, Matthew. 2004. Organic Seed Alliance hosts Organic Seed Growers Conference. TheNational Research Council. 2004. Biological Confine- Seed Midden. Spring. p. 1, 5. ment of Genetically Engineered Organisms. National Academy of Sciences. 219 p. Dillon, Matthew. 2004. Breeding for organics. The Seed Midden. Winter. p. 3.Tokar, Brian (ed.). 2004. Gene Traders: Biotechnol- ogy, World Trade, and the Globalization of Hunger. Toward Freedom, Burlington, VT. Dillon, Matthew. 2004. First World Conference on 124 p. Organic Seed, Rome, Italy. New Farm. (2- part article). August. 8 p. September. 4 p.Genetic Engineering vs. Organic Farming IFOAM. New periodical. DeVore, Brian. 2004. Public Seeds, Public Goods. Land Stewardship Project (compilation ofArticles newsletter articles). 11 p. Seed Trade Association. 2003. News pubseeds_pubgoods.pdf Release: The view of the American Seed Trade Association on Organic Agriculture. Glos, Michael. 2004. Public Seed Initiative News. 3 p. The Natural Farmer. Fall. p. 8. Haapala, J.J. 2004. A gardener’s guide to blockingBeck’s Hybrids. 2003. Final Report: Promotion of the bio-pirates. In Good Tilth. June 15. p. Organic Seed and Farming Practices, USDA 8–9. Block Grant for Promotion of Agriculture Hamilton, Molly. 2004. North Carolina Organic project. July. 22 p. Grain Project. CFSA. September–Bonina, Jennifer, and Daniel J. Cantliffe. 2004. Seed October. p. 7. Production and Seed Sources of Organic High Mowing Seeds. 2005. Press release: All Things Vegetables. University of Florida Extension. Organic Conference, April 30-May 3, 2005. 18 p. 2 p. www.organicexpo.netBrown, Greg. 2004. Commercial organic seed grower Industries Research and Development Corporation continues to spread the word. The Spud- (Australia). 2004. New rule to ensure man. January. p. 28. integrity of organic vegetables. Shaping the Future for Australian Organics. p. 6. www.Colley, Micaela. 2004. Organic Seed Alliance hosts Organic Seed Growers Conference. 2 p. html Jensen, Erika. 2004. A model of cooperation: Public newsletter_Spr_04b.htm Seed Initiative unites organic farmers, plantCondom, Mark. 2004. Can organic and biotech coex- breeders. Organic Broadcaster. ist? AgBiotech Buzz: Roundtable. 4 p. January–February. p. 1, 2, 9. ATTRA Page 13
  14. 14. Jones, Stephen. 2004. Breeding resistance to special Staff. 2004. News shorts: Sweden spreads the bur- interests. Organic Farming Research Foun- den of organic seed. The Organic Stan- dation. Fall. p. 4–7. dard. January. p. 11.Kandel, Hans, and Paul Porter. 2004. Small grain Staff. 2004. What’s new: Bayer withdraws GM crop. cultivar selection for organic systems. Cor- Organic Matters. May–June. p. 6. nerPost (MN). p. 11. Staff. 2004. Seed merchants must be licensed andKittredge, Dan, and Hali Shellhause (transcribers). bonded. Tilth Producers Quarterly. Sum- 2004. Vandana Shiva’s Keynote to the mer. p. 18. 2004 NOFA Summer Conference. The Staff. 2004. First world conference on organic seed Natural Farmer. Fall. p. 23–26. held in Rome. OMRIupdate. Summer.Lawn, C.R., and Eli Rogosa Kaufman. 2004. p. 1, 7, 10, 11. Organic Seed Crop Production: A new niche Staff. 2004. Organic seed issues discussed at Rome for New England farmers. 5 p. meet. Organic Business News. July. p. 3. Staff. 2005. Organic corn hybrid and soybean variet-Rauch, Jonathan. 2003. Will frankenfood save the ies test in Wisconsin. The Organic Broad- planet? The Atlantic Monthly. p. 103–108. caster. March–April. p. 5.Rich, Deborah K. 2004. Essay: Seed crossings bring Staff. 2005. Corporate Farming Notes: Monsanto vs. back old traits for organic farmers/Today’s U.S. Farmers report released. Center for varieties grow poorly in natural soils. Rural Affairs Newsletter. February. p. 3. August 28. 3 p. Williams, Paul. 2004. ATTRA Trip Report: CORNS Benefits for Earth’s Low-Income EmergentSonnabend, Zea. 2004. Report from Rome: World Farmers conference, Stillwater, OK. Oct. Conference on Organic Seed held at FAO 29–30. 2 p. headquarters. OFRF Information Bulletin. Fall. p. 9. Wisner, Robert. 2004. GE wheat would harm wheat exports. In Good Tilth. Feb. 15. p. 1.Staff. 2002. Pollen tracker: New software program predicts the genetic purity of corn hybrids. Wood, Robin, and Brian Smith. 2001. Organic veg- Farm Industry News. p. 30. etable seed production—more difficult than you think. 1 p. 2003. Sociologist surveys public attitudes on htm food. The Voice of Demeter. Summer. p. 8–9.Staff. 2003. Public Seed Initiative update (Summer 2003). The Natural Farmer. Fall. p. 35.Staff. 2004. News briefs: Commercial seeds of major U.S. crops pervasively contaminated with DNA from engineered varieties…. Alterna- tive Agriculture News. March. p. 2.Staff. 2004. Genetically engineered DNA found in traditional seeds. Michigan Organic Con- nections. January–March. p. 6.Staff. 2004. Research reports: Engineered DNA found in seeds. In Good Tilth. April. p. 24.Page 14 ATTRA Seed Production and Variety Development for Organic Systems
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  16. 16. Acknowledgements Oregon organic farmers Maud and Tom Powell offered several very helpful suggestions at an early stage of this publication. I greatly appreciate the expert assistance of Nancy Matheson, NCAT Agricul- ture Specialist, who intensively reviewed a later draft. Any errors that remain are solely my own. —KLA Seed Production and Variety Development for Organic Systems By Katherine L. Adam NCAT Agriculture Specialist ©NCAT 2005 Paul Williams, Editor Cynthia Arnold, Production This publication is available on the Web at: or IP272 Slot 273 Version 061005Page 16 ATTRA