Organic growers encouraged to grow their own seed

Sean Ellis
Workshops being held in Idaho, Oregon and Washington are encouraging organic farmers to grow their own seed. The workshops cover the challenges and benefits organic producers face when growing their own seed.

NAMPA, Idaho — Organic farmers in the Pacific Northwest, which dominates U.S. vegetable seed production, are being encouraged by a national group to produce and save their own seed.

Because of recent seed company consolidation, certain types of organic vegetable seed are becoming harder to find, said Micaela Colley, executive director of the Organic Seed Alliance, a non-profit national group.

“With the rapid consolidation within the seed industry that we’ve had within the last 10 years, there are fewer and fewer choices for organic seed,” she said. “That’s one of the motivating factors for a number of organic farmers who are starting to … grow their own seed.”

The last thing an organic farmer needs is to wake up one day and discover that the seed for one of their best-selling varieties no longer exists, said Beth Rasgorshek, owner of Canyon Bounty Farm in Nampa, Idaho, where the OSA held a Sept. 11 workshop on organic seed production.

“If it’s something you’re really fond of, you need to start thinking about growing the seed yourself,” she said.

Mike Heath, an organic farmer from Buhl, Idaho, said he grows as much of his own seed as he can because it can be difficult to find.

“If you like something, you better save the seed because it may not be there,” he said.

Another reason for encouraging organic producers to grow their own seed, Colley said, is that the National Organic Program is starting to more closely enforce a requirement that organic farmers use organic seed if it is commercially available.

Organic farmers must make a good-faith effort to find organic seed from at least three sources, but some certification agencies are starting to require producers to have a plan for how they are going to increase their usage of organic seed, Colley said.

“Instead of just being an ideal, it’s now being enforced,” Rasgorshek said.

Seed produced in an organic system can perform better for organic farmers than conventional seed, which has been grown in and for conventional systems, Rasgorshek said.

“I’m hoping organic farmers are now realizing that seed coming from an organic system will perform just as well if not better than conventional seed,” she said.

The OSA is part of a national working group that has created an online organic seed database — organicseedfinder.org — where seed companies can register varieties they have available and farmers can report what they’re looking for.

Workshops being held in Idaho, Oregon and Washington through October are teaching organic farmers the basic skills involved with growing their own seed.

The workshops cover such topics as seed harvesting and cleaning, the biology of seed production and maintaining the genetic integrity of varieties with appropriate isolation distances.

The next workshops will be Sept. 17 in Sweet Home, Ore., Sept. 19 in Gales Creek, Ore., Sept. 26 in Royal City, Wash., and Oct. 19 in Mount Vernon, Wash.

Registration can be done online at

www.seedalliance.org



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