Growing Magazine - May, 2014

COLUMNS

Seed Research: Organic Seed Resources

By Rebekah L. Fraser

This month's column is dedicated to organic seed resources - not just seed companies, but also seed exchanges, learning opportunities, books and webcasts. This list is by no means comprehensive; rather, it's meant to point you in the right direction, whether you wish to breed organic seed, grow and sell it, or simply farm with it.



Graphic by shelma1/thinkstock.

Associations, collaborations and networks

The Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (http://www.osgata.org) develops, promotes and protects the organic seed trade and its growers. The organization's focus is on ensuring that an adequate supply of high-quality, environmentally adaptable organic seed is available for crop growers. Members include farmers who grow organic seed, breeders of organic seed, organic seed companies and affiliate companies.

According to its website, the Organic Seed Alliance (OSA, http://seedalliance.org) "advances the ethical development and stewardship of the genetic resources of agricultural seed." To that end, the organization offers educational opportunities, a database, workshops, a conference and other networking opportunities.

Seed Savers Exchange (http://www.seedsavers.org) is a national exchange for seed savers. The organization hosts an online forum and publishes an annual yearbook to facilitate trading of seeds and information between members.

Like Facebook for farmers, The Seed Library Social Network (http://www.seedlibraries.org) offers seed growers, savers and breeders a chance to connect and share wisdom on the Internet.

Publications, webinars and videos

The OSA's "A Seed Saving Guide for Gardeners and Farmers" (http://bit.ly/1hQjP7V) covers the basics of seed growing, from selecting suitable varieties for seed saving to harvesting, processing and storing seed. It's geared toward readers with basic knowledge of vegetable growing.

Organic Variety Trial Reports (http://varietytrials.eorganic.info) present the results of crop trials conducted by the Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative and others at research stations and cooperating farms in several states between 1998 and 2012. Crops included broccoli, peas, carrots, red bell peppers, cauliflower, eggplant, pumpkin, butternut squash, spinach, icebox watermelon, winter squash, rye, cover crops, oats, irrigated potato, field peas, dryland potato, tomato and sweet corn.

"The Organic Seed Grower: A Farmer's Guide to Vegetable Seed Production" by John Navazio, a Washington State University organic seed research and extension specialist and OSA senior scientist, can be ordered at http://bit.ly/1eYfHgp. Navazio filled his first book with information to help growing operations produce a commercial organic seed crop. He offers scientific research alongside time-tested agricultural traditions to empower farmers and seed growers to serve the increasing demand for organically grown seed.

Seed Watch is a seed buyer's guide, available for free download at http://bit.ly/1iu0o3x. Published by Native Seeds/SEARCH, the guide clarifies confusing terms and provides information about creating diverse farms and gardens.

The Seed and Seed Production in Organic Farming Systems page on the eXtension website (http://bit.ly/1maAOnm) is an excellent source of information provided by ag extension professionals at land-grant universities throughout the U.S. The site, and the seed page in particular, offers publications, Web tutorials and other videos on topics such as:

  • How to Breed for Organic Production Systems
  • Pollination and Fertilization in Organic Seed Production
  • Keys to Disease Management in Organic Seed Crops
  • Seed Production Contracting: Guidelines for Organic Seed Producers

Seed Libraries Daily is an online newspaper devoted exclusively to global news about seed libraries and heirloom seeds. Read it at http://paper.li/seedlibraries/1393671790.

Databases

The Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies hosts the Organic Seed Finder database, an online resource available to the public free of charge. A clearinghouse of organic seed availability information, the database provides seed vendors a central place for posting organic varieties and farmers a resource for sourcing certified organic seed. Users can search by crop type for certified organic varieties at http://www.organicseedfinder.org.

The OSA maintains a database of seed producers looking to sell, seed companies seeking producers, and farmers seeking bulk organic or biodynamic seed. It's located at http://www.seedalliance.org/resources/spd/login.php.

Unique online resources

Pick A Carrot (http://www.pickacarrot.com) is a search engine dedicated to farmers. This user-friendly site operates like Google. When you input the name of the organic crop you want, a list of seed companies offering that crop will appear. The results include OP/hybrid/heirloom designations, availability and back order information. Considering that the number of organic seed retailers is increasing, this resource is especially useful. If your go-to seed company is out of your favorite seed, Pick A Carrot might alert you to another company that has it in stock.

Selling organic seed

Restoration Seeds (http://www.restorationseeds.com/pages/about-selling) offers independent organic seed growers an e-commerce presence. Growers receive 50 to 70 percent of the retail package price. There's a minimum listing recommendation of 10 seeds, and the company says that listing 30 to 50 varieties is the best way to attract the attention of buyers. You can list open-pollinated, untreated seeds, bulbs, corn or seed tubers for temperate climates, including vegetables, greens, flowers, and medicinal and culinary herbs. Restoration Seeds will not accept hybrids, treated seed, tropical fruits, annual flowers, ornamental trees, shrubs or herbaceous plants.

Sites and blogs to follow

The Seed Ambassadors Project (http://seedambassadors.org) is a fun and interesting blog written by a farming/traveling team that gathers rare and heirloom seeds from around the world and develops those seeds until they are adapted to the Pacific Northwest.

The OSA's blog (http://blog.seedalliance.org) posts timely information relevant to the world of commercial organic seed.

Seed Matters, an initiative of the Clif Bar Family Foundation, supports organic seed research and education in order to improve and protect organic seed systems. Although most grant applications are accepted by invitation only, the Seed Matters website is a valuable resource for information. Especially of note is the page for people interested in starting a community seed project (http://bit.ly/QAIrG6).

Author's note: This is the last seed research column I will write for Growing magazine, as I have accepted a position as managing editor at another professional magazine. I have learned so much in these last five years, and I hope that through reading this column you have learned a lot as well. It has been a pleasure learning with you. Thank you for reading.

Rebekah L. Fraser is an independent writer and communications consultant for a variety of businesses.