A new age for organic seed
Adrienne Shelton, Research Assistant
Department of Agronomy
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Phone: (608) 262-1390
2:03 – Total Time
0:14 – What is organic seed
0:48 – Why are organic seeds important
1:19 – What organic growers need
2:06 – Challenges to producing organic seeds
2:33 – Demand for organic seed
2:54 – Lead out
What is an organic seed? We’re visiting today with Adrienne Shelton, Department of Agronomy, University of Wisconsin in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison, WI and I’m Sevie Kenyon.
Sevie Kenyon: Adrienne, the first thing I’d like to know…what is an organic seed?
Adrienne Shelton: Well, there are two ways to think about organic seed. There is seed that has been produced organically. So, perhaps you might go into a store and buy a packet of seed that says it’s organic and that means that it has been grown organically. Just like you would buy an organic apple. What we’re trying to focus on here is breeding for organic systems and what that means is not just growing the seed organically but actually making selections and trying to breed traits that are particularly useful for organic growers.
Sevie Kenyon: Adrienne, why is this so important?
Adrienne Shelton: Because you can have organic seed that has been bred and developed under a totally conventional system. As a matter of fact, most of the seed that organic growers utilize has been bred for conventional production systems but it might not have the qualities that an organic grower could really utilize that a conventional grower doesn’t necessarily require in their seed.
Sevie Kenyon: What are organic producers looking for in their seed?
Adrienne Shelton: There’s a lot of things that organic growers are looking for in their seed that are similar to conventional growers. They want varieties that have a robust yield. If we’re talking about a vegetable crop, of course, something that tastes good. Some things that are different would be…early vigor is a good thing. That means being able to pop out of the ground really quickly after it’s been planted. So, for instance, in the crop that I work on, which is sweet corn, conventional growers have the ability to treat the seed with a fungicide but organic growers are not allowed to use that coating so they need a seed that is really robust and will still pop out of the ground before it gets attacked by all the pathogens in the soil.
Sevie Kenyon: What are some of the challenges to producing organic seed?
Adrienne Shelton: For the breeding of organic seed, one difficulty is that it’s really helpful to be able to breed your crop under organic systems, meaning that you’re making your selections in a field that’s managed organically. It’s hard to find organic land that’s been certified and has been managed organically to grow your trials and to make your selections.
Sevie Kenyon: Adrienne, what’s your sense for the demand for this type of organic seed?
Adrienne Shelton: Well, I’d say it’s really growing. In the past couple years I’ve certainly noticed that farmers are beginning to think more about the fact that if they have varieties that have been particularly bred for their systems in mind then there’s a good chance that they’re going to be able to produce a better crop because the varieties are adapted to their systems.
Sevie Kenyon: We’ve been visiting with Adrienne Shelton, Department of Agronomy, University of Wisconsin in the College and Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison, WI and I’m Sevie Kenyon.