Let’s get real, and all commit to using organic seed
Narrow variety focus that makes it impossible to “find” the seed organically is not a way to strengthen the organic seed sector, which is a vital part the future of organics.

By Jeff Moyer, The Rodale Institute® Farm Manager

Jeff Moyer is the farm manager at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm, and has been here for over 26 years, refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems. The farm has over 1,000 organic apple trees, a 3-acre CSA, 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market, and 25 acres of experimental research plots that have been used to test and compare the yield, soil health and environmental impact of organic and conventional systems for the last 22 years.

"It's been extremely rewarding to work at The Rodale Institute," says Jeff. "Working on projects and with people who are having a positive impact on family farm practices, economics, and environmental stewardship is very fulfilling. The positive changes I've seen on our own farm over the years—and farms around the world— convinces me that we're on the right road."

How to contact Jeff

Click here

611 Siegfriedale Rd.
Kutztown, PA 19530

Grain book covers quality requirements

The Rodale Institute book Organic Grain Cropping Systems and Marketing (2002, 180pp) helps you gain access to opportunities for organic grain marketing across the country and around the world. This handbook was designed to introduce farmers and agriculture educators to organic grain production, handling and marketing, with reference to the USDA’s National Organic Program rules and regulations.

Chapters cover a description of organic systems, soil health, cover crops and crop rotation, compost and nutrient management, pest management, marketing and organic certification. Included are production techniques for corn, soybeans, buckwheat, wheat, rye, oats, barley and spelt. Also included is coverage of seed selection, establishment, nutrient management, rotation considerations, harvesting and storage, processing, marketing and other resources.

For details, click here.

Posted November 9, 2006: I’ve just returned from the October NOSB (National Organic Standards Board) meeting in Washington, D.C., fully energized and excited about the future of this industry. From every conceivable corner, organic products are flooding into the marketplace. And every one of them needs what you and I produce—the raw ingredients from farm products, crops and livestock.

Even though I haven’t even finished harvesting our 2006 crops, it’s already time to order seeds for next year to help feed that growing demand for organic goods. I know I have to think about next spring, but it feels too soon, sort of like the retailers bringing out the Christmas decorations before Halloween.

So, where will you be ordering your seeds this year? Same place as last year that couldn’t find what you should have planted? Or will you really be searching for the crop varieties you want in the organic marketplace? This is not merely a rhetorical question. And, it’s not really a matter of choice—it’s the law.

What do I mean “it’s the law”? Well, I mean the USDA National Organic Program rule clearly states that farmers and growers must, and I repeat, must use certified organic seed—unless the seed you really need is not commercially available. Most accredited certifiers require that anyone not using certified organic seeds must document their search for organic seeds and document their non-availability established through reasonable search efforts.

Need more evidence of the intent of the NOP regulations? Check this:

§ 205.204 Seeds and planting stock practice standard.
(a) The producer must use organically grown seeds, annual seedlings, and planting stock: Except, That,
(1) Nonorganically produced, untreated seeds and planting stock may be used to produce an organic crop when an equivalent organically produced variety is not commercially available, Except, That, organically produced seed must be used for the production of edible sprouts;
(2) Nonorganically produced seeds and planting stock that have been treated with a substance included on the National List of synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production may be used to produce an organic crop when an equivalent organically produced or untreated variety is not commercially available;
(3) Nonorganically produced annual seedlings may be used to produce an organic crop when a temporary variance has been granted in accordance with § 205.290(a)(2);
(4) Nonorganically produced planting stock to be used to produce a perennial crop may be sold, labeled, or represented as organically produced only after the planting stock has been maintained under a system of organic management for a period of no less than 1 year; and
(5) Seeds, annual seedlings, and planting stock treated with prohibited substances may be used to produce an organic crop when the application of the materials is a requirement of Federal or State phytosanitary regulations.

So what does “commercially available” and non-available mean? Unfortunately the definition as stated in the federal rule and printed below is open to a great deal of interpretation by certifying agencies.

Commercially available: The ability to obtain a production input in an appropriate form, quality, or quantity to fulfill an essential function in a system of organic production or handling, as determined by the certifying agent in the course of reviewing the organic plan.

The organic seed mandate is also vulnerable to “over-specification” by some organic farmers. They list specific varieties they know will be virtually impossible to locate in the organic seed marketplace so they can purchase seeds—at a lower cost—that are not certified organic.

Avoiding the purchase of organic seed simply because it costs more or we don’t recognize the seed number should not be our goal. As farmers we need to support the industry from top to bottom. Our goal should always be to use organically produced products in every way we can—including seeds.

Why? For many reasons. As I mentioned, it is the intent of the law to require it. Even more importantly, it supports other sectors of our industry as they try to move organics forward. It also encourages seed producers to expand their line of varieties, helps fund breeding programs geared to the distinctive characteristics of organic production, and will ultimately help secure your farm’ ability to prosper in this exciting marketplace.

OK, you may say, but where can I find these seeds? Great question! I’m glad I thought to ask it. The answer is—in several places.

A good place to start is with your organic certifier. Many certifiers keep a list of potential organic seed suppliers. While certifiers cannot, by law, tell you where to buy seeds or hand-pick specific suppliers to endorse, they can make educational materials available.

There are several databases available for your use. OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) has an online database of seed suppliers who pay a fee to have their information listed for your benefit. An individual, Brian Rakita, has a web site at that will actually help you search for seeds. The Organic Seed Alliance is another excellent resource.

Finally, use your current seedhouse to locate the varieties you need. If they can’t find any after you give them plenty of time and variety choices, at least have them document their search for you.

Now, once you find the seeds—buy them. Don’t use end-runs to avoid supporting the good people trying to build quality and integrity into the organic seed industry. Find the sources that are doing the most for organic farmers in their regions or across the country. We all need the support of each other as we struggle to move organics into the mainstream by keeping our organic values intact.

After all, that’s how we grow...

From One Farm to Another