Progress towards harmonisation is positive but slow – 100% organic seed use is some way off in the future. The UK is lagging behind many of its EU neighbours.
A workshop on the organic seed regime organised by the European Consortium for Organic Plant Breeding (ECO-PB) took place on September 21st and 22nd. It was hosted by the Organic Research Centre in the new conference facilities at Elm Farm near Newbury in Berkshire. This was the sixth workshop to deal with this subject since ECO-PB was established in 2001 although the organisation has organised many events linked to other aspects of plant breeding and propagation.
Delegates gathered from across the European Union with some 10 countries represented around the table. The EU’s Standing Committee on Organic Farming (SCOF) was represented as were a number of government departments and organisations engaged in granting approvals and derogations to farmers and growers. The audience also included researchers, advisors, seed company representatives and breeders.
The overall objective of this series of workshops is to work towards a greater use of organic seed across the EU and to encourage the development of varieties suitable for use in organic systems. As a result of a series of presentations from individual countries and seed companies the participants learned that considerable differences still exist. In general terms there was more progress in many of our closer neighbours than in the UK.
Several countries run voluntary schemes in which certain crop species and sub-species are put into a so-called category 1. This means that there is a sufficient amount of organic seed in a sufficient number of varieties and all stakeholders agree that only organic seed can be used for that species. We have no such scheme in the UK although Defra are now minded to start the process of putting such a scheme together.
Other key points were:
Large and small growers tended to work together in those countries with advanced Category 1 systems but it was noted that in the UK it was the smaller growers that used the highest proportion of organic seed. It was suggested that there was a degree of resistance among the larger growers in the UK to use organic seed, thereby impeding investment and progress in organic seed production and plant breeding. This will only be remedied by re-invigorating the seed working groups and setting them clear tasks and requirements.
Further information on the event and related activities can be found at www.organicresearchcentre.com.