Plant reproductive material for organic farming
Organic farming contributes substantially to the evolution of genetic diversity and agriculture. It plays a key role in dynamic conservation of biodiversity and continuous improvement of genetic resources alongside gene banks and organic research institutes.
The organic sector strives to apply organic standards to plants’ entire life cycle, including the production and use of inputs such as seed. Yet for many cultivated plant species there is still little or no choice of organic seed. This is why organic farming needs more diverse organic Plant Reproductive Material (seeds and vegetative propagation material), as well as harmonised and true access to a wider range of cultivars adapted to regional climatic and organic growing conditions.
Organic farmers’ seeds are heterogenous, with a high genetic diversity. Organic farming systems need this diversity as it can improve resilience, performance and yield stability. The possibilities in the new Organic Regulation (EU) 2018/848 are an important step to increasing and diversifying seeds and other plant reproductive material available to organic farmers.
IFOAM Organics Europe…
- Advocates for increasing the availability and diversity of genetic resources available and authorized for organic farming;
- Provides recommendations to policymakers on the particular needs of the organic value chain. We focus on the regulation surrounding seeds and other plant reproductive material;
- Has a seed expert group providing expertise used in our policy work on Seeds, GMOs & Intellectual Property Rights;
- Collected messages, arguments, and visuals on organic seeds for its members (you need to be a member to access these, contact firstname.lastname@example.org for access rights and information about membership);
- Coordinated the Horizon 2020 LIVESEED project that aimed to increase the availability and use of organic seed in Europe and will partner in the LIVESEEDing project that succeeds LIVESEED.
The possibilities in the new Organic Regulation (EU) 2018/848 are an important step as they bring the market closer to increasing and diversifying seeds and other plant reproductive material available for organic farmers. Yet all depends on the implementation of the new provisions. The new regulation, entering into force in January 2022, will allow organic farmers to access heterogeneous material, mostly as seed for arable crops. Today, this seed is not legally available to farmers as it is very genetically and phenotypically diverse, but this diversity improves resilience and helps conserve biodiversity. A process has also been set into motion to adapt the registration criteria for varieties for organic production.
The EU legislation on marketing seed and plant propagating material (SPPM) consists of twelve basic acts. A complete overview on the specific legislation is available on the EU Commission’s website. There is an ongoing process of reviewing the EU rules on plant reproductive material, and several policy options were presented by the Commission. IFOAM Organics Europe is representing the EU organic sector and movement in this process.
Organic seed needs to comply with more rules than conventional seed. EU legislation defines these rules in twelve basic acts prescribing registration in the EU common catalogue for varieties (Directive 2002/53;55) and conventional regulations on seed quality. Organic seed needs extra certification before producers can market it as organic seed (Regulation 834/2007; 889/2008).
The organic regulation prescribes the use of organic seed. Yet for some cultivated plants, no organic seed is available for farmers. To bridge the gap between organic seed supply and demand, national and European regulations defined certain circumstances permitting organic producers to use non-organic seeds.
Organic farming needs more diverse organic Plant Reproductive Material (seeds and vegetative propagation material), and harmonised and true access to a wider range of cultivars adapted to regional climatic and organic growing conditions. The possibilities in the new Organic Regulation (EU) 2018/848 are an important step to increasing and diversifying seeds and other plant reproductive material available for organic farmers. But all depends on the implementation of the new provisions.
Derogations that are currently permanent will be transitional in the new regulation so farmers have continued access to non-organic seed when organic alternatives are not available. However, rules to phase out the use of conventional untreated seed are essential to stimulate the use and production of organic seed.
For our position on the review of the EU rules for seed & other plant reproductive material, read our 2022 position paper.
For our complete position on plant reproductive material in the new Organic Regulation (EU) 2018/848, read our 2019 position paper.
The LIVESEED project will increase transparency and will provide policy recommendations. The project partners analyse national seed databases and factors influencing organic seed production and use. They also explore national policies, smart practices, build EU infrastructure and analyse issues on propagation. The partners also want to advance testing protocols to improve the availability of organic seeds, ensuring they are adapted to the realities of organic farmers.
The project partners conduct studies on the production and use of organic seed, the EU Member States’ legal frameworks, functionality of seed databases and the demand of seed suppliers and users. The partners set up national seed expert groups on organic seed where they are missing, and disseminate best practice models. To combine transparency and policy, LIVESEED will create a router database facilitating exchange on seeds at EU level.
Project website: liveseed.eu
LIVESEED is funded through Horizon 2020, the EU’s research and innovation programme. The project has been selected for the topic “SFS-07-2016: Organic breeding – Increasing the competitiveness of the organic breeding and farming sectors” within the call “Sustainable Food Security – Resilient and resource-efficient value chains” of Societal Challenge 2 “Food security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine and maritime and inland water research and the bioeconomy”.
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 727230 and by the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) under contract number 17.00090.
The information provided do not necessarily reflect the official views of the EC and the Swiss government. Neither the European Commission/SERI nor any person acting behalf of the Commission/SERI is responsible for the use which might be made of the information provided.
Breeders and farmers put into practice breeding methods at the farm level to respond to the specific needs of organic agriculture. Organic farmers are most commonly involved in plant breeding projects evaluating and selecting varieties as they have hands-on knowledge of crops and cultivation methods in organic systems. The focus of these participatory breeding programmes is preserving and/or recultivating heritage varieties and developing new varieties adapted to organic farming conditions. In this section you find two inspirational examples.
In Italy, the organic farm ‘Podere Santa Croce’ hosts conversations on and a field catalogue with landraces from all over Italy. The farm keeps 130 local varieties of wheat in search of varieties with the best qualitative properties. They also collaborate with the University Bologna to regenerate old varieties.
In The Netherlands, the potato is an important crop for the organic sector. The sector urgently needs new cultivars resistant to the most important disease; late blight (Phytophthora infestants). To make this possible, breeders, growers, seed companies and retail have joined forces. Their goal is to achieve 100% robust varieties of organic potatoes by 2020 and they want to upscale production, cultivation and sales of robust organic varieties through an integrated approach, as specified in the potato covenant.
In 2012, the Hungarian Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (ÖMKi) launched a participatory research project on the usability of Hungarian tomato landraces on organic farms. The aim of this project was to reintroduce landraces that were most suitable for organic production and hence, enrich genetic biodiversity of plants farmed in Hungary and preserve the country’s valuable agricultural heritage. The project made use of an on-farm research network that is based on the active participation of farmers, and the number of participants has been increasing continuously since 2012. (project still ongoing: ÖMKi – Research with the participation of Hungarian farmers). Read more about this initiative on euorganic2030.bio.
The work of IFOAM Organics Europe on this topic is co-financed by the LIFE programme of the European Union, under the Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency (CINEA). This page only reflects the views of the authors and its sole responsibility lies with IFOAM Organics Europe. The CINEA is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information provided.
Cover image’s credits: LIVESEED project.