Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Johnny’s Attends 8th Organic Seed Grower’s Conference: Cultivating Resilience

by Joy Longfellow

R&D Breeding Team, Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Early February saw several members of Johnny’s Research, Breeding, and Sales teams head west for the Organic Seed Alliance’s 8th Organic Seed Growers Conference: Cultivating Seeds of Resilience.

The Pacific Northwest is a powerhouse for seed production in the US, and Johnny’s has many loyal customers and seed producers there. The Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) is a strong voice in the conversation around organic seed production, and over 500 farmers, plant breeders, seed producers, researchers, and others came together for the four-day event at the Oregon State University campus in Corvallis, Oregon.

Five Highlights from the Johnny’s Crew

1.       Finding Our Place in Resilient Seed Systems
  • Much of the conversation during the conference revolved around building resilient seed systems at local and national levels. As our food systems come under increasing pressure from changing climate, changing politics, and changing regulations surrounding seeds, the need grows for systems that can withstand future shocks and stresses.
  • One highlight was the keynote address by Cary Fowler, author of Shattering: Food, Politics and the Loss of Genetic Diversity. Cary Fowler is also the motivating force behind the Svalbard Seed Vault, the world’s largest secure seed storage facility, located north of the Arctic Circle in Norway. Fowler spoke about the increasing need for preservation of genetic resources, reminding us that “We protect what we love.”
Some of the many seeds available at the Seed Exchange,
held the last night of the conference

2.       Making Valuable Connections
  • Lindsay Wyatt, Squash and Pumpkin breeder at Johnny’s, made contact with cooperators for conducting butternut squash trials this upcoming summer season.
  • John Navazio, Root Crop and Leafy Greens breeder, and Myra Manning, Product Technician, paid visits to several trial sites and cooperators on the west coast.
    Lainie & John share a laugh with farmer-cooperators
    Lainie Kertesz & John Navazio
    evaluate kale and purple-sprouting broccoli
    (and share a laugh) at an off-site
    trial cooperator's farm
  • Trialing our products with farmer–cooperators connects us with a community of expert growers with whom we can evaluate prospective new releases.
3.       Sharing Our Knowledge
  • John Navazio, Lindsay Wyatt, Lainie Kertesz, and Brenna Chase combined forces to give a talk titled Perspectives of a Successful, Independent Seed Company — discussing Johnny’s history as a seed company and contributions to the field of plant breeding. It was a fitting tribute to the work done by Rob Johnston, Janika Eckert, and so many others over Johnny’s long and successful history.
Lainie Kertesz discussing Johnny's contributions
to the field of plant breeding
  • Rob Johnston and John Navazio were both invited to participate on a panel of Seed Elders. Panel members included Carol Deppe and Frank Morton, among others recognized for their valuable contributions to the fields of plant breeding and sustainable seed systems. Rob Johnston, unable to attend due to personal reasons, was notably missed.
4.       Getting the Update on Organic Seed Production & Plant Breeding
  • The Organic Seed Alliance announced some results from their most recent assessment of organic seed production in the United States. The State of Organic Seed 2016 report showed an increase in growers using organic seed on their farms, but also stressed the reality that many farmers still face difficulty in sourcing organic seed in large quantities or for specific varieties.
  • Some interesting facts from the report:
Greatest barriers to farmers using organic seed
•   Specific varieties unavailable as organic seed
   •  Organic seed not available in sufficient quantity
Top vegetables requested for breeding improvements
•  Tomatoes •  Brassicas   
•  Squash •  Sweet corn   
•  Peppers •  Lettuce
Top traits farmers requested for breeding improvements in above crops
•  Disease resistance •  Yield
•  Flavor •  Quality
•  Appearance
  • This kind of feedback from growers is critical to making sure our efforts match what our customers need. Events like the Organic Seed Alliance conference give us the opportunity to get a sense of the market and calibrate our breeding and research efforts accordingly.
5.       Engaging & Eating!
  • Much of the conversation during the week revolved around to how to involve people from the whole food system — from breeding to eating.
  • The OSA coordinated several “tastings” over the course of the event, giving participants a chance to taste and evaluate several varieties of cabbage, chicory, barley, and squash. A favorite was the raw Black Futsu Squash salad with anchovies and chicory.
Tasting ... Black Futsu Squash Salad

  • Johnny’s crew met with Lane Selman from Oregon State University to discuss the Culinary Breeding Network — an exciting venture working to connect farmers, chefs, and plant breeders in the efforts to breed and distribute flavorful vegetables. If you are a chef, keep an eye out for new varieties from Johnny’s!

The Discussion Continues…

Additional conference talks we attended covered such interesting topics as:

  • Hybrid development and use in the organic seed community
  • GMO contamination and regulation
  • Intellectual property rights in plant breeding and seed production
  • Plant breeding for organic systems
The conference provided opportunities for Johnny’s crew to hear and participate in some of these conversations. While yielding more information than can fit into a short blog post, we came away with much to think about and some ideas for how we at Johnny’s can contribute to building resilient seed systems.
  • What issues related to seed production and seed systems are important to you?
  • Where do you see the need for more work in seed research and plant breeding?
  • How are you “cultivating resilience”?
Thanks for reading — and best of luck to you, in whatever ways you are cultivating resilience!


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