Farmers need access to suitable organic seed but there is a lack of high-quality organic seeds in Europe. The EU-funded LIVESEED project addressed this by developing a new organic seed quality strategy, a Europe-wide seed database and sustainable breeding techniques that target specific farming conditions. By strengthening the EU’s organic agriculture, these results will benefit all citizens.
The EU-funded LIVESEED project, launched in 2017, wanted to tackle the issue of organic seed availability and quality from a variety of angles, from market aspects through to regulation.
“We wanted to know for example, how transparent the market is,” explains project coordinator Ágnes Bruszik from the European Office of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements. “What is the current organic seed supply and demand in the EU? And what is it that influences farmers when deciding to use, or not to use, organic seed?”
The project, which brought together experts from 18 European countries, also wanted to explore the functionality of existing national databases on organic seed availability and assess best practices in both EU and national policies. Farmers require a wide selection of locally adapted organic varieties, so the project was keen to look at ways of improving the availability of organic varieties with specific traits such as tolerance to stresses or resistance against pests and diseases.
Taking organic action
The ambitious project set out to achieve its objectives through over 60 subtasks. These included collecting the first-ever data on organic seed supply and demand in Europe, and the construction of a router database at the EU scale. This enables seed suppliers to enter seed offers into other national databases with a single entry. Over 800 organic farmers have been consulted on various aspects, and LIVESEED has successfully extended the Organic Farm Knowledge Platform, with a dedicated section on seeds and breeding.
“We are also developing a new organic seed health strategy, as well as a roadmap towards using 100 % organic seed by 2036,” says Bruszik. “This strategy will take account of seed production conditions, and look at seed maturity, the seed microbiome and the effect of organic seed sanitation treatments.” The project team is also developing new on-farm cultivar trial models, to improve the testing of organic varieties by farmers themselves, in their own local conditions.
In addition to new breeding materials, another innovative aspect of LIVESEED has been what it calls the system-based breeding concept. “This invites the organic plant breeding community to look beyond the value chain, and to incorporate organic breeding within wider sustainable development goals,” notes Bruszik. “The next steps will be to break down the concept into operational targets, and to then implement it.”
Meeting organic targets
LIVESEED will go some way to helping farmers meet ambitious European targets. By 2030, some 25 % of EU agricultural land should be used for organic farming. “For farmers, the benefits of this project include improved access to a wider pool of high-quality seeds, improved knowledge on seed production, and the ability to test new or promising cultivars in their own climatic conditions,” adds Bruszik. “New breeding materials released through projects like LIVESEED help to reduce the dependence on synthetic seed treatments, due to the breeding of cultivars resistant to seed- and soil-borne diseases. This in turn allows for environmentally safer production.”
A wider variety of organic cultivars, adapted to local and climatic conditions, helps to diversify production through crop rotation, and gives organic farms resilience against the adverse effects of climate change.
The project team has also contributed towards new EU organic regulations, by providing input through consultations with the European Commission. A key focus here has been on the introduction of new types of organic plant reproductive materials. “The Commission is planning to establish criteria for describing the characteristics of these organic varieties, and to determine their production and marketing conditions,” says Bruszik. “LIVESEED provided a positive list of crop species for consideration.”
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