Organic seed producers have to release
high-quality seed to build confidence
Predictable germination is the place to start, with
back-up information as available.

By Dave Engel

Editor’s NOTE:

Response to Richard Glenister’s letter Organic farmers left holding the bag for substandard seed in response to Jeff Moyer’s column titled Let’s get real, and all commit to using organic seed.

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Posted March 15, 2007: Richard's experience with seed is probably not uncommon, but I want to try to put into context what might otherwise be thought to be a “normal bad organic seed experience.”

First, Blue River is a good (nay, excellent … and I don’t even sell it) seed company, probably one of the best, as they are professionals and try to produce organic seed through cooperators located in different areas of the country to give more options in their seed selections.

Second, I find four of the five bullets of questions from a seed company to a farmer in assessing seed performance to be pretty much totally to the side in this discussion, i.e. none of those first four bullets should make that much of a difference in the performance of a seed, and if they do, then that is one fragile seed.

Unfortunately, a farmer gets their seed and can only first read the label for hints of performance, then by feel/heft of seed, then by performance once planted. The first two critical control points are not in either his or God's hands, and are the 100-percent responsibility of the seed supplier.

And the last bullet—around which the four questions circle—is one which would require extreme weather conditions to affect. For example, I planted corn the first of June last year and it did fine, both germ and production-wise. I planted corn the end of June, and it hit a dry spell and though the germ was fine, the production was zilch.

In my experience, germ is the primary failing of organic seed, and as Richard indicates, that happens at the seed supplier’s end, and could be corrected there by not marketing light seed or stressed seed. Don't they know what they are doing for testing that seed? Are they lying?

The other thing, I guess, that a farmer could do is germ test the seed themselves before planting, though they certainly should not have to. All of this notwithstanding, the organic rule allows for quality, variety and quantity considerations when choosing certified organic seed, and the onus is on the seed suppliers to be able to provide not only consistently good-looking/feeling seed whose specs are good on the tag, but also test plots, testimonials, etc, to provide confidence in their product.

It remains for farmers to use their wits in buying the product. If good seed suppliers will do their part and farmers do their part, slowly but surely more and more consistently good organic seed will be produced and sold.

Farmers are not asking for something for nothing, and seed suppliers also should not expect to get something for nothing, or at least for less than what is required to produce good seed. I know seed suppliers are chomping at the bit when they hear stories here and there of farmers not buying organic seed. I can assure you, however, that most certifiers are being very diligent in their application of the rule and in verifying the farmer's efforts to source and buy good organic seed.

Nevertheless, once that rule has been fully applied to an operator's situation and the full commercial availability parameters have been covered, there will be relatively numerous instances where the certifier will find adequate, if not obvious, reasons for the “quality, quantity, variety” criteria to play out on behalf of the farmer. In other words, given that farmer's situation and the certifier's sufficient review of same, the farmer's using conventional untreated seed will be an appropriate choice on their part.

I want to stress again that most certifiers are being very diligent in applying this part of the rule, even to the point of at least recommending the producer try an organic variety whose specs are good but “it's not Pioneer 3845 ... ”

So, if there are instances where one thinks a farmer is trying to not comply, that should be reported to the certifier for investigation.