“More farmers are using organic-source seeds than in 2011. Farmers are more satisfied with organic seeds, too.”
That’s according to Kiki Hubbard of the Organic Seed Alliance who presented a recent webinar on the “State of Organic Seed,” put on by eOrganic.
Hubbard presented research gathered by the alliance that showed organic farmers using organic seeds for all their acreage going from 20 percent to 27 percent from 2011 to 2013. The use of organic seed among organic farmers increased 31 percent over the same time period.
One-quarter of the organic farmers surveyed said they have the same seed quality as conventional, untreated seeds. The majority said that organic seed is important to organic production.
“It shows an improved understanding that breeding crops in the environment of their intended use” is important, Hubbard said.
Money used for researching organic seed has also increased, she said, a sign that organic seed is gaining traction among researchers.
“It still pales by research for conventional ag interests,” she added.
Hubbard said that research on organic seed benefits traditional growers, “but the same can’t be said about research in conventional seeds.”
Hubbard said some organic farmers don’t use all organic seeds, especially larger organic producers, because they may be obligated to contracts requiring specific varieties that aren’t available as organic.
“The organic seeds may have undesirable traits and price,” she said. “But it’s less of a factor than when we did our first research in 2011.”
Hubbard views the lack of organic seed variety as both a challenge and an opportunity.
“It will take different people on the seed-food chain to make a difference,” she said.
Hubbard said the research showed that most farmers still rely on nonorganic seeds as most don’t plant organic forage crops.
She said that “certifiers could use better guidance.”
In the 2009 survey, 39 percent of respondents said their organic certifier did not request the grower take more steps to source organic seeds. By 2014, that number rose to 60.1 percent, Hubbard said.
She said ongoing challenges include “better guidance on organic seed regulation, funding and infrastructure constraints for research, more skilled organic seed producers, the burden of GMOs, and restrictive IPRs (intellectual property rights).”
As for policy recommendations, Hubbard said: “It’s essential to building and protecting an organic seed system, though we don’t often think about that. Laws and regulations impact each part of an organic seed system.
“It’s imperative that we engage in advocacy. The burden for protecting organic seeds rests upon the organic community.”
Hubbard said that she wants to increase certifier and inspector trainings, establish a review of organic seed availability, support an organic seed database, publish guidance on excluded methods, and address seed purity.
She is hopeful next year’s Farm Bill will include additional funding for organic seed research. Additional funding for plant breeding and seed research “will help fill supply gaps in the area of organic seeds,” she said.