COMMENTARY

For the sake of the organic community
Readers respond to Rodale Institute farm manager Jeff Moyer’s column about how certified organic farmers should do their best to source organic seed, because it’s the law and because it makes sense for the organic community.

Posted December 14, 2006

 

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DEAR NEW FARM:

I am an organic farmer in Hawaii and president of the Hawaii Cooperative of Organic Farmers (HICOF). I enjoyed and fully support Jeff Moyer’s comments about using organic seed, and I also believe many are scamming the system by not doing so. I also know that depending on where you are, Hawaii for instance, there are no organic seeds available for locally developed vegetables (e.g. ‘Manoa’ lettuce or ‘Waimanalo Long’ eggplant), thus forcing our organic farmers to use other organic “similar” varieties. It would be wonderful if Rodale would be interested in helping us create an organic seed program for our state.

Al Santoro
President, Hawaii Cooperative of Organic Farmers

Jeff Moyer responds:
DEAR AL:

Thanks for the email and the support for our work here at The Rodale Institute. I fully understand the difficulty certain regions have in finding the specific varieties they need for the crops their customers want. This only stresses the point more that we as growers and farmers need to be in contact with the seed suppliers and let them know what we want, then support their efforts by purchasing them. If there is an organic market for specific varieties, seed companies will do what they can to supply it.

I'm not sure what you mean by your question about TRI helping to create an organic seed program in Hawaii. If we can help, we will. What do you have in mind?

Jeff Moyer

Paul Hepperly, research manager at The Rodale Institute, responds:
DEAR AL:

Aloha Nui Loa. Glad to hear you are interested in supporting organic seed of locally adapted and developed veggies. This is a great idea whose time has come!

I would initiate a conversation with the former sugar cane researchers at Hawaii Agriculture Research Center in Aiea to adopt organic seed as part of their program. They have a nice facility for production in Kunia, Oahu. They also reproduce conventional seed for University of Hawaii.

A portion of their station could potentially be transitioned to organic, and then they could produce seed to organic specification. When I was in Hawaii, Dr. C. Whalen was in charge out there.

I believe it would be better to work through existing institutions as a cost-effective way to meet your goals rather that starting from scratch. Even though that institution is not an organic institution, I believe they may well be open to supporting the growing organic movement, and this may help in the greater transformation of agriculture in Hawaii. These are some of my thoughts.

Mahalo,
Paul Hepperly


DEAR NEW FARM:

I would like to pass on to Jeff Moyer that I was impressed with his article on committing to organic seed. He laid out all the right reasons for using organic seed. Yes, it is the law but it is much more. By purchasing organic seed the farmer is helping to fund breeding programs designed specifically for organic systems, which will benefit all organic growers and strengthen the entire organic industry. Planting organic seed is also true to the mission of developing a fully integrated organic and sustainable food system.

Best Regards,
Steve Peters
Commercial Seed Manager
Seeds of Change


DEAR NEW FARM:

I cannot agree with Jeff Moyer. Last year for the first time we found many organic varieties of vegetables no longer available. The small seed suppliers are now buying organic seeds from larger companies who carry only one certified variety of each vegetable. That is why this year all the seed suppliers had the same variety in organic seeds. This is a disaster. I had to tell customers this year that I did not have ‘Sugarsnax’ carrots because the organic seed is no longer available.

Organic farmers should not trade off produce quality for anything, including buying seed because it is organic! We need to get more small seed suppliers to grow their own organic seed again as they used to. Price is not the issue; the organic seeds that the seed companies do have do not cost much more than the conventional ones. This is because they are buying them in large quantities and because there is no longer the variety selection. Following Jeff Moyer's advice will ensure that organic farmers have poorer produce quality than non-organic farmers.

Louis Lego
New York

Jeff Moyer responds:
DEAR LOUIS:

Thanks for the comments on my article about organic seeds and the need for organic farmers to support the fledgling organic seed industry. You make several good points regarding a very complex decision-making tree. I agree that saving your own seed is an excellent way for some growers to get the specific varieties that do well on their farms, as is having more small seed companies grow their own seed. We also need to encourage more seed suppliers to expand their variety selection—which they will do when the demand is there. And that was the key point to my article, not that we as farmers should trade off produce quality for organic, but that we should request the varieties we want to be grown organically.

We, growers and farmers, need to take the time to ask the seed companies (big and small) to get the varieties we want in organic. As more and more growers ask for the seed, it will become available. If, on the other hand, we don't show interest in purchasing organic seeds, seed companies will read that message as not being an economical venture. That is why I say we need to support the entire industry, from top to bottom, so that we all may benefit.

I also agree that everyone planting the same variety is a disaster waiting to happen. Again, we need to ask for the varieties we want in organic selections. No matter what size farm you manage, you can have a positive impact on the seed industry. As organic growers we should not have to choose between produce quality and purchasing organic seed, and I believe that if we support the organic seed industry today we won't be in that position tomorrow.

Jeff Moyer