You may have noticed while browsing my online store that some of my plants are grown from organic seed. After learning more about seed production methods, I’ve made a concerted effort to grow plants from organic seed. Eventually, I’d like all of the plants I sell to be grown from organic seed, but currently not every plant variety is available as organic seed. My goal is to continue to increase the number of organic plant varieties I offer each year.
Is organic seed better than conventional seed? For me, the answer to that question is “yes.” Read on to find out why.
How Seed Crops Are Grown
Seed crops (plants grown for their seeds) remain in the ground for much longer than vegetable crops (plants grown for food), and the longer a crop remains in the field, the greater the opportunity for pests and disease to strike. A good example is the biennial carrot plant which produces fruit the first year, but if left in the ground will flower and set seed the second year. It takes approximately 70 days to harvest carrots, but it takes two years to produce carrot seed. The longer time also means more chemicals can be applied to the plants during the growing period to control or combat infestations.
Although most of the seed harvested from seed crops is eventually used for food, the seed crop itself is not suitable for human consumption, so it is not subjected to the same regulations as vegetable crops. The seed crop regulations are much less stringent and allow for greater applications of chemicals, albeit synthetic or organic, during the growing process. It is a fact that conventional seed production is one of the most chemically intensive types of agricultural production.
Conventional Seed Crops
Conventional (non-organic) seed is grown with conventional growing practices that rely on synthetic fertilizers and potentially harmful pesticides. These seed plants are often treated with chemicals from the time they are sown in the field and exposed to a pre-emergent herbicide through harvest when they may be treated with additional fungicides before packaging.
In addition to the adverse impacts on the environment, the liberal application of chemicals also leads to lower seed resiliency, especially when compared to the resiliency of organic seed, leaving them less able to fight pests and disease on their own.
Conventional seed growers use pesticides liberally and they apply them often to ensure a successful crop.
Organic Seed Crops
Certified organic seed is produced from plants that are grown under the strict organic growing protocols mandated by the USDA. And though organic growing systems do allow for the use of certified organic pesticides and fertilizers, organic seed producers have much more limited options to prevent and control pests and disease when compared to conventional seed producers. Consequently, to produce healthy plants, organic growing principles focus on healthy soils and integrated pest management techniques, and strive to limit the use of chemicals in the growing system.
Since organic seed production does not rely on large doses of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, the seed produced is naturally more resilient thus much better able to fight off pests and disease. Organic seed crops must have natural vigor and disease resistance to survive, and producers select only the strongest, most resilient plants for seed harvesting.
Organic seed growers rely on healthy soil and integrated pest management to ensure a successful crop.
Why Organic Seed Matters
All organic growers who sell USDA-certified organic products must use organic seed stock. Beyond that, choosing organic seed over conventional seed is a matter of preference and economics. Organic seed is more costly than conventional seed, due in part to how it’s grown, and as I said earlier, it is not available for all plant varieties.
I source seed from various regional growers around the west and many are like myself in that they follow organic growing protocols but are not “certified” organic growers. While the majority of the seed I purchase at this time is not USDA-certified, it is from seed producers that hold themselves to a higher standard and a commitment to organic protocols.
So why am I committed to offering a greater number of organically grown plants each year? Because I am committed to seed diversity, resilient plants, fewer chemicals in the environment, support for organic seed producers and small farms (a majority of organic seed produced in the U.S. is from small to medium-sized farms), along with my ongoing commitment to helping home gardeners grow the best, the healthiest, and the safest food in their gardens.