Organic seed supply a hurdle

Many organic vegetable producers are having difficulty buying a regular supply of seed and are likely to produce them on farm in future, says NSW DPI expert at Yanco, Robyn Neeson
Many organic vegetable producers are having difficulty buying a regular supply of seed and are likely to produce them on farm in future, says NSW DPI expert at Yanco, Robyn Neeson.

The authors of a new report, Production of Organic Vegetable Seeds and Seedlings, are recommending that producers form co-operatives to facilitate the supply and purchase of organic seed and seedlings.

The report by NSW DPI’s Robyn Neeson and Dr Greg Howell was commissioned by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, following the announcement that from January 1, 2004, all European certified organic producers and importing countries would have to source planting material from certified sources.

In order to maintain market access for their produce, Australia’s organic producers would be required to adopt the European Union Regulation.

The publication contains the outcomes from a series of national workshops aimed at increasing awareness of the requirements for organic seedling production.

They also conducted a telephone survey of organic vegetable producers and seed and seedling suppliers, to determine their preparedness and ability to adopt the changes, or to supply this market.

“The project revealed some key issues that industry needed to address in order to enact the smooth transition of the European regulation into Australian organic standards,” said Ms Neeson.

“Despite some reservations, industry was largely enthusiastic about the adoption of the seed and seedling regulation, considering business development opportunities to be a positive spin-off.”

Ms Neeson said uncertainty regarding the supply of, and demand for, organic seeds and seedling was inhibiting their production.

She said the survey identified that the Australian organic vegetable sector was largely dominated by a large number of smaller production units (less than two hectares) growing a diverse range of crops.

“Due to the irregularity and small size of orders, large commercial seedling suppliers were generally unwilling to meet their demands,” she said.

“Consequently, many organic vegetable producers are having difficulty buying a regular supply and believe that in future they would place a greater emphasis on on-farm production of seedlings.”

The authors conclude that producers could form co-operatives to better facilitate the supply and purchase of organic seed and seedlings.

Maintenance of an adequate genetic resource base is another major challenge for the industry.

The authors also recommended:

  • More on-farm seed production be undertaken to fill the supply gap
  • Users form alliances through their certifiers with larger suppliers of seed and seedlings to facilitate supply and demand
  • Organic vegetable growers determine their annual requirements for organic seed and seedlings well in advance of their production season requirements
  • Seed and seedling suppliers investigate alternative markets (eg, Green Life and Allied Products horticultural segments)
  • Seed and seedling suppliers identify export opportunities for counter-seasonal supply of fresh organic seed for the large northern hemisphere markets (European Union, Japan, the US).