Growers Update and New Initiatives
The session started with Alan Schofield, chair of the Organic Growers Alliance (OGA) giving a short review of the season. The new highly interactive OGA website was launched – www.organicgrowersalliance.co.uk Organic seed production and supply is a major issue facing the sector. The New EU Organic Directive has spawned the European Consortium for Organic Plant Breeding (ECO-PB) to develop international policy on organic seed regulation. There is a strong need to balance the needs of producers and seed companies. Various methods to achieve this exist on a national level but they require clear communication between the sector and national government and other member states. The aim of this session was to discuss these possibilities.
Prof. Edith Lammerts van Bueren was unable to attend due to the adverse weather. Roger Hitchings instead led a discussion on the organic seed sector and encouraging organic seed production and use. The way that growers and seed companies communicate is vital and there are huge potential benefits for this interaction. He began by stating that the Centre for Organic Seed Information (COSI) was no longer funded by Defra and was off-line. Roger stressed the importance of balancing the needs of the sector whilst moving swiftly towards independence from conventionally produced seed. The EU regulation is clear and aims to ban derogations for non-organically produced seeds entirely. A major issue with this is harmonisation across EU borders and what role equivalence will play. The aim is to create a level playing field for all member states enabling. This will with luck be achieved by communication between; organic growers, umbrella organisations, organic traders and retailers, seed companies and control bodies.
The lack of funding from Defra for the Organic Seed Working Groups, meaning the horticultural group can meet no more than once every two years, was said to be a constraint. Some seed companies are unlikely to ever produce organic seed. Cytoplasmic Male Sterilisation (CMS), now banned under Demeter (biodynamic) standards was discussed. CMS could be interpreted under the EU regulation as Genetic modification and raises issues for many modern F1 hybrid seed producers. Roger noted that the process does occur naturally in Japanese Radish. Adam York introduced the new OGA website which includes a live forum for discussions and raising awareness of current issues within the sector. Members have access to technical information and back issues of the Organic Grower. Pete Dollimore explained that use of the site would be very straight forward and that having such a platform for contributions and interaction from OGA membership, could only strengthen the feeling of collectivity within the group as a whole.