The Washington State Department of Agriculture says it’s prepared to go to court to protect the purity of Skagit Valley’s vegetable seeds from cross-pollination.
The department’s warning responds to concerns that gardeners and small vegetable farms are letting their plants go to seed too close to commercial fields of brassica seed crops.
Washington State University-Skagit County Extension Director Don McMoran said cross-pollination is a growing worry. “It is, especially as we get more and more people from out of the area who are unfamiliar with our production,” he said.
The agriculture department enforces a state law mandating minimum distances between fields of brassica seed crops. The rule also applies to farms that save seeds.
Since the 1940s Skagit County seed growers have met to identify their fields before spring planting. The fields must be spaced at least 1 mile apart, McMoran said. The requirement extends to Whatcom, Snohomish, Island and Clallam counties. The state has a separate brassica seed production district in Central Washington. The agriculture department’s warning was a reaction to cases in Skagit County.
In one case last summer, a residential garden was seen as a threat to a commercial cabbage seed farm, McMoran said. The case was resolved through appeals to the gardener, he said.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, we educate them, and they’re more than willing to go by the rules,” he said.
Prior to the 2017 growing season, the agriculture department distributed postcards and made other efforts to inform gardeners and seed savers of the rule against cross-pollination.
The department has authority to seek an injunction in Superior Court to protect commercial seed farms. The department has not taken a case to court recently, agency spokesman Hector Castro said.
“Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that,” he said. “We are very serious about these requirements.”
Skagit County grows 25 percent of the world’s cabbage seeds, according to the WSU-Skagit County Extension. The county is also a major source of spinach and beet seeds.