Saturday, April 28, 2012

Organic vs. Conventional Seeds

Many people argue that in order to feed the world we must use conventional style agriculture with its chemical inputs, hybrid seed, and large scale monocultures. A recent study in Nature magazine showed that comparatively-- conventional agriculture beats the yields of organic agriculture. However, most studies (including this one) don't qualify their results based on seeds used.

Matthew Dillon of Seed Matters and the Organic Seed Alliance had this to say,
"Organic vs Conventional studies are often flawed in that they ignore that most organic farmers are using seed bred for conventional systems, or seed that has not been improved at all. I read the actual Nature piece and no mention of seed or breeding. Research from Washington State University shows that when farmers use wheat seed that has been selected in organic systems for multiple generations there is as much as 20% increase in wheat yields, compared to when they plant conventional seed."

You see if you breed an organism to perform under certain conditions (in this case being coddled with chemical pesticides and fertilizers) and then place that organism in a system which does not offer the same conditions, the organism won't perform the same way.

Organic seeds come from organically raised crops. These crops are raised in a system in which they must fight diseases and pests with their own defenses and that of the farmers hands. When plants are raised in this system and seeds are saved from the plants that perform best,  that next generation will have a leg up within that same system. Over time, saving seed from the best plants each year will lead to a population that can handle the challenges of organics.

Organic farmers need organic seeds. If there are none available on the market, they have to use conventional seed. This puts them at a disadvantage over their conventional agriculture competitor in terms of yield and other markers of performance. We can all do these farmers a favor and support public plant breeding for organics and participatory plant breeding. Check out the Organic Seed Alliance and Cornell University for more information!

A gallon of beans and half gallon of calendula. all grown organically!

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