My friends ask me what exotic place I plan to visit on my next culinary adventure. My wanderlust urged me to attend BioFach in Nuremberg, Germany and relish the schnitzel and bratwurst. Instead, I am off to beautiful downtown Corvallis, Oregon to sample the organic hazelnuts and Pinot Noir while attending the 9th Organic Seed Growers Conference.
Why you may ask this domestic departure? Because all things I savor come from seeds. This year’s theme is Synergy that Sustains, and it’s going to take quite a lot of synergy to sustain and advance organic seed systems worldwide.
Who controls our seeds?
Today, the proprietary seed industry is intimately linked to the world’s largest agrochemical corporations. Syngenta Bayer, BASF DuPont, Monsanto, and Dow, known as the “Big Six,” currently control both 60% of the global seed market and (not coincidentally) 75% of the global pesticides market.
Outlined in a report by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES), “Some of the largest M&A deals in history have been proposed within the seed and agrochemical industries over the past two years…If the proposed mergers are accepted under current terms, just three companies could control more than 70% of agrochemicals, and more than 60% of proprietary seeds worldwide.”
Why do organic seeds matter?
Organic seeds offer a departure from the consolidated paradigm. You may think that all organic food and fiber is sprouted gently from certified organic seed. The sad fact is that our organic farmers cannot find adequate supplies of organic seeds to sustain their production.
The Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) report, State of Organic Seed, stated “As demand for organic products grows, so does demand for organic seed. Our report shows the organic seed supply isn’t keeping up with broader organic industry growth. Most organic farmers responding to our survey still rely on conventional (non-organic) seed for at least part of their operations.”
Most available seeds are bred for intense chemical industrial agriculture that isn’t suited to organic practices or local regions. Quite frankly there hasn’t been enough funding for research nor the ability for farmers to network, share and save seeds.
Until this conference began nine years ago, there was no place for the organic seed community to synergize and sprout seeds of change.
Who attends this conference?
A fine scattering of farmers, seed producers, plant breeders, and researchers working in organic seed systems will all show up for three days of intensive workshops, seed tours, a trade show and of course seed swaps.
I will be attending, representing UNFI, a long time platinum sponsor of the event. This conference reflects some of the core beliefs UNFI holds dear to bring healthier food options to people while doing what’s right for the planet.
On Saturday, Congressman Peter DeFazio, a long-time champion of policies that support organic farmers, will deliver the keynote address. He will provide updates on the current Farm Bill discussions and how the organic community can help shape a more sustainable food and farming agenda in Washington, DC.
You can still register for three days of live broadcasts from the conference. You can “attend” any or all of these presentations and come and go as you wish from wherever you are! They are free, and just one advance registration is required. Register now here.
The sessions being live-streamed are listed below.
February 14th: Seed Economics Intensive. 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Pacific Time
On Friday, February 16th listen to:
Crop Planning for Organic Seed Growers: 9-10:30 a.m. Pacific Time
Growing Strong Seed the Biodynamic Way: 2-3:30 p.m. Pacific Time
Seed Production in Cages – Challenging, Fun, and Rewarding: 4-5:30 p.m. Pacific Time
On Saturday, February 17th join in to hear:
Leveraging Variety Trials to Advance Organic Seed Systems: 9-10:30 a.m. Pacific Time
Microbial Hitchhikers on Seed: Friend or Foe? 1:30-3 p.m. Pacific Time
Organic Hybrid Seed Production in the US: Methods and Case Studies: 3:30-5 p.m. Pacific Time
This conference is seeding synergies to sustain our future.
Our seed is much more than an input. It’s a living, natural resource that demands careful management to ensure a secure and healthy food supply.
The dominant seed system is controlled by a handful of chemical and biotechnology companies with no genuine interest in the success of organic agriculture. They hold intellectual property rights that discourage research and seed saving.
As resources to seed become more consolidated worldwide, this conference offers synergies to focus on generating more diversity in genetics and expanding partners involved in breeding, seed production, and policy advocacy.
Sustaining the organic seed movement is essential to the sustainability of our agricultural system and the very future of our food supply.