Planting organic seeds is a requirement for organic farmers certified under the National Organic Program (the United States’ organic program). However it might come as a surprise to learn that if certain organic crop seeds are not available for a farmer to buy, they are allowed to plant non-organic seed. It’s important to note that any non-organic seed used cannot be a genetically modified or treated.
This exception allowing the use of non-organic seed happens when seeds are “commercially unavailable”. Sales of organic food have increased significantly the past several decades. Unfortunately organic seed producers have not been able to keep up with the demand. This is the reasoning behind allowing an organic farmer to plant a non-organic seed. Until enough seed becomes available, this rule will remain.
I recently learned about a program trying to fix this problem. The Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) and the Multinational Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture (MESA) collaborated to put on an Organic Seed Production course. The course ran in 2016 and 2017, aiming to teach beginning farmers and other program participants how to save seeds. It involved on farm training, as well as online lectures. I was happy to see that material was offered in both English and Spanish.
The course also taught business skills in the hopes of growing the organic seed production market. Successful organic seed saving requires a significant amount of knowledge, which participants received by each partnering with a local farm.
According to a Food Tank article, “Each webinar covers a distinct component of seed production knowledge, such as variety trials and crop selection, contracting and economics, seed cleaning and recordkeeping, and diseases and pests.” Like I said, there’s a lot to know!
The article goes on to say, “OSA hopes “these trainings will empower more organic producers to integrate seed saving and variety development into their own diversified operations, thus expanding the on-farm conservation of seed and reducing farmers’ dependence on conventional seed sources.””
It seems like the program has been successful so far. Let’s hope it continues and grows!