BIOFACH session on organic seed and organic heterogenous material in the New EU Organic Regulation

On 14 February, IFOAM EU organized a session on Organic Seed and organic heterogenous material in the new EU Organic Regulation at the BIOFACH congress.

Visitors were able to gain an insight into recent developments regarding organic seed in Europe. These were based on facts and the perspectives of farmers and seed companies that were collected through surveys within the framework of the LIVESEED project. Martin Sommer, Policy Coordinator at IFOAM EU explained the importance of including organic heterogenous material (OHM) into the New Organic Regulation for the organic sector. OHM is an additional category of plant reproductive material available for organic farming. It offers a high level of genetic diversity and resilience. When the audience raised concerns whether this new category might disturb the seed market, the panel emphasized that OHM should be seen as an additional tool with the potential to diversify the possibilities in organic farming rather than a threat to current practices.

Gebhard Rossmanith from Bingenheimer Saatgut talked about the definition of organic varieties suitable for organic production in the Organic Regulation. He also explained how the ‘seven years temporary experiment’ could facilitate market access for organic varieties by developing prototypes of alternative protocols for variety testing. Those protocols could then be adopted to allow for more flexibility concerning uniformity and stability during registration and the introduction of new characteristics that are particularly relevant for organic. The experiment is to be conducted by the EU Commission in cooperation with the Member States.  

Finally, Freya Schaefer from FiBL presented the results of a survey among farmers, seed companies and breeders. They show that the highest share of organic seed use per farm can be found on farms that predominately grow vegetables as well as in Northern and Central Europe. A substantial increase in organic land area has led to an increased demand for organic seed. Yet, non-organic seed is still commonly used for most crops. Fundamental challenges that need to be overcome are

  • the increasing but still low demand for organic seed
  • and the difficulty for farmers to obtain organic seed for all the crop (sub)species and varieties needed.

Consequently, it is crucial to improve the availability of organic seed for locally adapted varieties, which goes hand in hand with increased efforts in breeding for organic farming. The prospects concerning breeding activities are, however, positive. At the moment, more than half of the European seed companies are planning to increase investments in breeding varieties suitable for organic production over the next 5 years.

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