Response to Richard
Glenister’s letter Organic
farmers left holding the bag for substandard seed
in response to Jeff Moyer’s column titled
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
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