27 November 1998

Organic seed supply warning

ORGANIC farmers could face problems sourcing seed when an EU derogation waiving the stipulation that it comes from organic sources runs out on Jan 1, 2001.

Such was the warning for an oversubscribed conference at the Henry Doubleday Research Association at Ryton near Coventry last week.

"It is not only vegetables it affects, but cereals, grasses, legumes for swards, farm forage crops, pulses and green manures like winter tares and phacelia. So the consequences are broader than people have thought out," said Dorset organic grower Mike Michaud.

Faced with the challenge of producing quality seed without pesticides, organic seed producers could concentrate their efforts on just a few key varieties. That would hit the reliance of organic growers on a multi-species, multi-variety diversity and the use of minor crops to allow biodiversity, good rotational practice and a sufficiently wide range of horticultural, arable and animal feed crops.

"Will there be just three varieties of courgettes for the whole of Europe?" asked Mr Michaud. "Unless there is a derogation there will be less diverse farm management."

Ensuring the organic status of the many preferred varieties sourced from countries outside the EU will also be difficult, he said.

"What is the point?" Mr Michaud continued. "One kg of leek seed can produce 25t of leeks and one cabbage seed a 1kg head, I do not see what the problem of contamination is." He also asked where the organic seed would come from for the 70% of organic food that is imported.

"The regulations allow the use of up to 5% non-organic food in processed organic food and we use medicines in animals. Nobody complains about that. Good quality seed is what we need for organic production. My business is growing chilli peppers and I am not going to start saving my seed, because of the threat of virus. If I cant get organic seed I will have to drop my organic symbol." &#42