Over the past half century, most plant breeding programs, both public and private, have been developed in response to the needs of large-scale industrial agriculture with a focus on yield improvement, the ability to stand up to storage and transport, and appearance. However, not only do breeding programs for conventional crops often use techniques banned under organic standards, they also can result in the loss of traits critical for the success of crops managed without the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.
In February, the Organic Seed Alliance will hold the 8th Organic Seed Growers Conference for two days of presentations and networking focused on organic seed. Conference attendees receive hands-on instruction, results from cutting-edge research, updates on seed policy and advocacy efforts, and inspiring stories from the field. The theme will be “Cultivating Resilience,” a current assessment and road-map for building organic seed systems that are ecologically, socially, and economically resilient. The conference Feb. 4–6, 2016, will take place at Oregon State University, which will co-host with Washington State University and eOrganic.
Visionaries in the organic sector are investing in efforts to groom the next generation of organic researchers. Clif Bar Family Foundation’s Seed Matters™ initiative to fund four fellowships totaling $500,000 for four Ph.D. students studying plant breeding in North Carolina, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin is designed not only to improve seed for today’s organic farmers, but is seen as investing in leaders for the future.
Organic lettuce that can fight mildew and aphids, organic strawberry nursery stock with the potential to transform the organic berry sector, new varieties of organic food-grade barley able to be grown in the Pacific Northwest, an organic open-pollinated sweet corn whose seed can be saved for the following year, and educational grants and endowments to invest in organic’s future. These are just a few examples of organic research innovations that are shaping today’s organic industry and ensuring a solid and healthy future for tomorrow.
OTA's Farmers Advisory Council (FAC) provides input from small- and medium-sized organic farmers, ranchers and growers to the Organic Trade Association on matters pertinent to the advancement of organic agriculture, with a specific focus on OTA’s policy agenda. Established in 2013, FAC is designed to formalize and improve communication between OTA and organic producers. It gives organic farmers a voice to directly influence OTA’s policy, and enables OTA to better represent the diversity of organic producers in its policy and advocacy.
An organic check-off would be unlike any other check-off program in American agriculture. Nothing like it has ever been tried, so the idea has understandably raised some questions. OTA has talked to lots of organic stakeholders over the past three years, and has found there’s a core group of concerns that keep coming up. We’ve also found that most of these concerns are based on perceptions of older check-offs, and we’ve addressed these issues.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations Council has declared 2015 as the International Year of Soils. Soils have been receiving a lot of attention lately, because they are the basis for our food systems, fuel and fiber production, many essential environmental functions, and climate change mitigation. Unfortunately, soil health is under threat: the large-scale use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in conventional farming has been damaging soils and decreasing their natural ability to provide ecosystem services.
The challenge is clear and only intensifying with the rising demand for organic products: more organic farmers and more organic land are needed. At the same time, older farmers are selling farmland, fueling a farmland real estate market that continues to grow. For investors, this has averaged a return rate of 12 percent the last 20 years, according to the National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries.