Summer 2015 Newsletter
Hot Off the Press
Help Shape the Movement: Call for Conference Proposals
Hard at Work on a New Pacific Northwest Sweet Corn
New Report: Purple Sprouting Broccoli Trial Results
Seed Harvest! Purple Cabbage in the Greenhouse
Labor of Love for New Purple Kale Varieties
News from OSA's Research Farm
Breeding More Open-Pollinated Sweet Corn Varieties
A Collective Vision for California's Organic Seed System
Southeast Variety Trials in Second Year
Organically Bred Seed in High Demand
Looking for More Organic Seed?
Don't Miss Your Rebate for Organic Certification
How Should Genetically Engineered Crops be Regulated?
OSA Takes Advocacy to Washington, DC
Read All About It: OSA in the News
Upcoming OSA Events
It's here! A new text for seed savers, written by OSA's Micaela Colley and Jared Zystro, and published by Seed Savers Exchange, is now available for purchase. The Seed Garden: The Art and Practice of Seed Saving is filled with advice for both gardeners and the more seasoned horticulturist on saving seed from your favorite open-pollinated plants. The book is beautiful, combining stunning photographs with clear instructions on how to save seed from more than a dozen crop types. Our hope is that the book makes seed saving accessible to everyone, while helping readers develop a deeper understanding of the importance of practicing this important act as a way to conserve and improve the genetic diversity of our seed heritage.
OSA will be attending Seed Savers Exchange's conference and campout from July 17-19 to celebrate and promote the book, and teach seed workshops. We hope to see you there!
Order your copy of The Seed Garden here.
Help shape our 8th Organic Seed Growers Conference by providing input and proposals for content. This is your opportunity to share important research and ask timely questions related to organic seed. We welcome your proposals for presentations, workshops, posters, panels, and roundtables. The 8th Organic Seed Growers Conference theme is Cultivating Resilience, a current assessment and roadmap for building organic seed systems that are ecologically, socially, and economically resilient.
The conference will be held February 4-6, 2016, in Corvallis, Oregon, and is the only event that brings together diverse members of the organic seed community in two days of presentations and networking events focused solely on organic seed. Conference attendees receive hands-on instruction, results from cutting edge research, updates on seed policy and advocacy efforts, and inspiring stories from the field.
Proposals must be submitted by July 15, 2015. Applicants will be notified by September 1, 2015.
Learn more and submit your conference proposal here.
Sweet corn is the iconic fresh crop of summer, but farmers on the Olympic Peninsula have few choices in varieties that will mature in the mild, maritime climate and some of the best varieties are owned by Seminis, a subsidiary of Monsanto. That is why the Port Townsend Food Co-op is supporting our research program to breed a new, short season sweet corn in partnership with organic farmers on the Olympic Peninsula. We launched the project last year by screening more than 90 breeding lines from our Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC) partners at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. The university has the only public sweet corn breeding program in the US, which is led by former OSA board member Dr. Bill Tracy. We identified the best plants for stand establishment, early maturity, and eating quality. This year we are growing 127 breeding families at our research farm and a bulk population (a mixture of all those 127 families) at three sites on the Olympic Peninsula. Once the variety is ready for release, our friends at Port Townsend Food Co-op will choose a locally inspired name for it.
Results from our purple sprouting broccoli variety trials in Oregon and Washington are now available. Purple sprouting broccoli is an ideal crop for winter food production in the Pacific Northwest, and is gaining popularity as a produce item distinct from traditional broccoli. It's planted in the summer and then overwinters, providing a harvest in the late winter and early spring, typically February or March, at a time when little diversity in fresh produce is available in the region and storage crops are waning.
We are working in partnership with Organically Grown Company, Oregon State University, and Washington State University on this first multi-state variety trial to focus on how different varieties perform in organic production systems. The report includes data from nine varieties, two of which are OSA's working (unfinished) varieties. In addition to field evaluations, overall appearance and flavor were evaluated at tasting events this past March in Portland, Oregon, and Port Townsend, Washington. Farmers, chefs, and produce retailers provided valuable feedback on the appearance and flavor of the different varieties, rating their preferences, and providing input on which traits to prioritize in plant breeding projects moving forward.
Download the report here.
We will soon harvest seed from a purple cabbage breeding project that is part of our work with the Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC). Our goal is to produce a purple storage cabbage with excellent taste and field holding capacity (i.e., the heads hold for a long time without bursting). Our research team crossed two open-pollinated varieties that have a number of desirable production and culinary qualities ('Granite' and 'Red Drum Head') with the purpose of combining these traits into a new variety. Overwintered cabbages were selected in the field last December, and a month later we dug up these plants and moved them into our greenhouse to initiate flowering and seed production. Normally cabbage seed will not mature in time for planting again the same year. The greenhouse allows us to speed up our breeding work. We will repeat this process over the next three years, allowing the successive generations to freely cross-pollinate. Each year we will select plants that exhibit the beneficial traits that farmers and other partners are looking for in a storage cabbage. Thanks to Nash's Organic Produce for their partnership in this project!
OSA has been partnering with farmer Nash Huber on kale breeding for over a decade. We are proud of the work Nash and his team have accomplished to develop new varieties of purple and green open-pollinated 'Winterbor' kales. Nash is currently producing seed of the green kale on several acres, which will result in tons of seed for commercial sale next year. This year we turned our attention to purple kale and conducted hand pollinations to reduce the number of green plants in the population.
Ready for a Mendelian lesson? The green trait is recessive, meaning two copies of the gene are required for a green kale plant. If only one gene is present, the plant is purple, but if it cross-pollinates with another plant that also contains a green gene, the next generation will include green plants as well as purple. Recessive gene traits are very difficult to eradicate in cross-pollinated crops like kale. Self-pollination is one way to achieve this, and although it's time consuming, OSA's research team performed hand pollinations on this kale both in the greenhouse and the field. The seed is maturing now and we'll harvest it soon. We will plant the seed from these self-pollinated plants this fall and assess what percentage have green offspring. The plants without green offspring will be kept and allowed to freely cross-pollinate next spring.
We are settling into our new research farm in Chimacum, Washington, and thrilled to be part of the Chimacum FARM (Fish, Agriculture, and Resource Management) Collaborative, located on the same property. OSA constructed two greenhouses, one small for producing transplants and breeding projects, and a larger one for trials, seed production, and drying. Right now we have over an acre of trials, breeding work, and seed production in the field. Our trials include carrots, lettuce, cabbage, onions, tomatoes, sweet corn, winter squash, sweet peppers, and overwintered chicory and purple sprouting broccoli. We are also producing seed for carrots, cabbage, phacelia, and 'Abundant Bloomsdale' spinach. As an added bonus, OSA's Laurie McKenzie manages two personal bee hives in the field to support pollination.
When OSA breeds new varieties, we focus on open-pollinated varieties because of the benefits they provide organic farmers. First, farmers can save and produce seed from open-pollinated varieties. Second, farmers can improve open-pollinated varieties through selection on their farm. Third, the genetic variability in open-pollinated varieties provides a buffer when environments fluctuate. However, many of the best U.S. public breeding programs focus on developing hybrids, meaning that much of their best breeding material exists as the inbred parents of the hybrids. How can we access the potential of the inbred material in our public breeding programs to make excellent open-pollinated varieties for organic agriculture? OSA is partnering with the University of Wisconsin - Madison and Oregon State University to find out through a new sweet corn breeding project. This year we are growing forty of the best inbreds from the University of Wisconsin's sweet corn breeding program, along with 100 hybrid crosses between those inbreds. We're growing these in large trials on six organic farms in California, Oregon, and Wisconsin this year and in 2016. We'll use the information about how these inbreds and hybrids perform, in combination with detailed genetic information, to choose sets of five to ten inbreds to cross together to make new open-pollinated plants. We plan to release many new open-pollinated sweet corn varieties in the coming years.
There is a clear need to increase the availability and diversity of organic seed for California's organic growers. As seed companies expand their offerings to fill this gap, they face a number of challenges inherent to the seed business. Many of these challenges can be solved through communication and collaboration between seed producers and distributors.
In February 2015, California organic seed producers and organic seed distributors met to create collective actions to strengthen the state's organic seed system. Guided by a strategic planning process, participants developed four key goals:
- More face-to-face contact with those in the seed movement.
- A collective user-based database for seed growing, processing, distributing, prices, and marketing.
- A collective public relations campaign to build community support for organic seed.
- A standard of transparency and integrity.
This year four working groups will begin taking action to support the goals identified at the summit. If you are an organic seed producer or distributor in California and want to participate in the working groups, please contact Jared Zystro. The summit proceedings will be published on our website in July 2015.
If you are a certified organic farmer, handler, or processor, remember you are eligible to participate in the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program. This program provides a rebate of 75% of your certification costs and up to a maximum of $750 per scope (crops, livestock, wild crops, and handling), so the rebate could be even higher. The USDA allocates cost share funds to state agencies, usually state departments of agriculture, which then administer the programs and provide reimbursements. Learn more from this USDA factsheet or email Liana Hoodes, policy advisor to the National Organic Coalition.
The USDA has been regulating GE crops under outdated regulations for far too long, which is why we took it as good news that it collected comments this month on how their regulations should be updated. Current regulations simply don't protect farmers, the public, and the environment from the negative impacts of GE crops. This week OSA submitted comments to encourage the USDA to draft new regulations immediately, and that updated regulations should at least do the following: mandate contamination prevention practices on behalf of GE crop owners and users; require independent analyses of the potential impacts resulting from GE crops; establish stronger experimental field trial oversight and restrictions; and establish a fair compensation mechanism to support those harmed by contamination. Read our full comments here.
Advocating for policies that support organic seed systems and the farmers who rely on them is an important part of OSA's work. Our advocacy director just returned from Washington, DC, where she was strategizing with National Organic Coalition (NOC) partners and meeting with members of Congress about our most pressing organic policy priorities. Our message included the need to increase organic research investments to expand the availability of diverse, public plant varieties that are adapted to organic agricultural practices and regional climates. As consumer demand for organic products continues to outpace domestic supply, research is an important piece to growing production here in the US. Among other issues discussed was our support for the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, which would require the US Food and Drug Administration to label food containing genetically engineered ingredients. We also discussed confusion in the marketplace between certified organic products and misleading labels like "natural." NOC is a strong coalition comprised of more than a dozen organizations and businesses representing organic farmers, processors, retail businesses, consumers, certifiers, researchers, educators, and policy experts. Learn more about NOC here.
Wisconsin State Journal UW-Madison Professor gets corny with new seed variety called 'Who Gets Kissed?' "There's a community of organic farmers who want open-pollinated varieties so they can adapt them to the growing conditions on their own land, saving their own seed to plant from year..." read full article.
Voice of America Plant Breeders Aim to Save Diners from Bland Veggies "Colley's OSA has been breeding for other traits like flavor, color and optimal performance in the local climate for years. 'It's not a brilliant new light bulb that just went on, per se. It's a light bulb that went on with the public.'"...read full article.
Civil Eats The Power of Selection: A Plant Breeder for the People "Morton is passionate about preserving this knowledge. Since the late '80s, he's run seed workshops and delivered lectures at the Organic Seed Growers Conference and Organicology, a biennial conference that covers the latest..." read full article.
PT Leader A New Vision for a Historic Farm "The current list of partners includes the American Farmland Trust, Jefferson Land Trust, Organic Seed Alliance, North Olympic Salmon Coalition, Essentials Blooms, Power Trip Energy, Farmhouse Offices and CoLab and Washington State University..." read full article.
Politico Battle Lines Drawn in Biotech Rule Update "Representatives for Food and Water Watch and the Organic Seed Alliance, meanwhile, argued that all biotech crops should be regulated, the USDA should expand its oversight of experimental field trials to stop the spread of unapproved crops..." read full article.
SeedQuest The Seed Garden: The Art and Practice of Seed Saving -- A New Seed Saving Book from Seed Savers Exchange "In this comprehensive book, Seed Savers Exchange, one of the foremost American authorities on the subject, and Organic Seed Alliance bring together decades of knowledge to demystify the time-honored tradition of saving the seed of more than 75 crops -- from heirloom tomatoes..." read full article.
Flathead Beacon Save Seed for Genetic Diversity "On the farm, we've been field-testing new spinach. 'Abundant Bloomsdale' is a cross between a cold hearty open-pollinated spinach variety and other disease-resistant ones. The Organic Seed Alliance worked with numerous farms to develop the..." read full article.
Field Day and Farmer Training | July 12, 2015 | Gilroy, California Join OSA's Jared Zystro and Steve Peters at Welten Farms in Gilroy, California, from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. for a field day and farmer training. Participants will tour OSA's organic field trials, which include over 30 varieties of cabbage, kale, and cauliflower, and learn simple techniques for conducting variety trials on their own farms. Learn more and register today
Seed Savers Exchange Conference and Campout | July 17-19, 2015 | Decorah, Iowa Join OSA's Micaela Colley and Jared Zystro for this year's annual Seed Savers Exchange Conference and Campout in Decorah, Iowa. Look for how-to workshops presented by OSA and be the first to purchase The Seed Garden: The Art and Practice of Seed Saving, co-authored and edited by OSA and Seed Savers Exchange. Learn more
National Association of Plant Breeders Annual Meeting | July 27-30, 2015 | Pullman, Washington Join OSA's Micaela Colley and CIOA project partners at this year's National Association of Plant Breeders annual meeting in Pullman, Washington. This year's event theme is "identifying and utilizing genetic diversity" and will include workshops, keynote addresses, graduate presentations, and research posters on the subject. Learn more
Student Organic Seed Symposium | August 9-12, 2015 | Madison, Wisconsin OSA's Jared Zystro and Laurie McKenzie will present at this year's Student Organic Seed Symposium in Madison, Wisconsin. Entering its fourth year, this symposium was originally incepted to create a scientific community in which graduate students, researchers, farmers, and industry professionals could build relationships and form collaborations to develop the organic seed movement. Learn more
8th Organic Seed Growers Conference | February 4-6, 2016 | Corvallis, Oregon Our next Organic Seed Growers Conference will be held February 4-6, 2016, in Corvallis, Oregon. Here's what past participants say about this one-of-a-kind event. Learn more
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