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Developing a participatory approach to seed production and varietal selection (CTE0201) - OF0330

Participative approaches to agricultural research and development are now extensively used throughout the world to help define and address the practical research needs of farmers. They have proved useful in solving practical problems in complex and diverse farming systems, characteristics typical of organic farming systems.

This project aims to build on past experience and develop appropriate participatory methodologies that involve farmers and specialist researchers, seed suppliers and arable marketing cooperatives working in partnership on varietal performance and seed quality research. This is an issue that has been identified by ongoing participation in Elm Farm Research Centre’s farmers groups. Farmers will be involved in developing the methodology of the trials, establishing the measurement criteria, running the trials and evaluating both the trails and the methodology. The research process will be closely monitored throughout and the methodologies developed will be disseminated at the end to farmers, research scientists and agricultural students. This project will build on the existing relationships with farmer groups built up by Elm Farm Research Centre over many years.

A key constraint identified by organic farmers is the lack of information relating to varietal performance under local organic conditions. Farmers must seek information from a range of alternative sources including their own past experiences and experiments, experiences of neighbouring farmers and advice from agronomists, seed suppliers and grain merchants. However, it is likely that this informal approach could be much improved by integrating the information and needs of all those involved in variety production and use, for example, farmers, scientists, seed suppliers, grain merchants and processors.

A further linked constraint identified by organic farmers is that of quality organic seed production. In non-organic systems seed of many crops is treated prophylactically with agrochemical products regardless of the health status of the seed, and the risks which various levels of infection might pose. Increasingly, this practice is becoming less tenable, and a combination of seed health testing and treatment according to test result, is becoming more common. Even so, this approach is usually confined to the generation of seed used for crop production, and multiplication generations are still treated. In the case of some cereal diseases, there are sound biological reasons for doing this, since the pathogens involved are highly adapted seed-borne fungi which can increase rapidly with each successive seed generation. For organic production, the removal of the derogation allowing the use of non-organic seed from January 2004 means that a minimum of two generations of seed cannot be treated with conventional products.

Thus, there is an urgent need to explore the agronomic merits of a broad range of cereal varieties grown under organic conditions and to determine their suitability for the end user. It is also important to establish husbandry techniques to ensure these varieties can be produced satisfactorily under organic management at the local level. This could best be achieved using a participatory approach, bringing together farmers, scientists and processors to identify varieties and/or varietal mixtures that perform well under organic management, that farmers are content to grow and that processors are prepared to accept.

The project meets DEFRA’s current policy aims of promoting sustainable development including sustainable use of natural resources, economic prosperity through sustainable farming that meets consumer’s needs, and thriving economies and communities in rural areas. It would help DEFRA meet many of its stated objectives including those to protect and improve the rural environment, to promote a safe and competitive food supply chain, to promote sustainable, diverse, modern and adaptable farming as well as to promote sustainable management and prudent use of natural resources.
Overall Aim
To develop a robust system for identifying, testing, multiplying and marketing cereal varieties, lines, mixtures and populations best suited to organic production in different parts of the country.

1. Develop a participatory research and development methodology for UK organic farmers using variety trialling and the management of seed-borne disease as examples.
2. Collect information on the range of cereal varieties currently grown by organic farmers to help identify the major priorities and constraints among the varieties available.
3. Establish a pilot programme of cereal variety trials with organic farmers on organic farms using the methodology developed by Objective 1.
4. To obtain information on which seed-borne diseases, including ergot, may cause problems in the organic seed production chain of wheat, barley, oats and triticale, and to examine any relationship between organic husbandry conditions (seed rate, sowing date, rotation etc.) and incidence/severity of disease.
5. Determine whether cultivars with good potential for organic production are resistant to one or more of the seed-borne disease problems.
6. Working with farmers (Objective 1), review and identify a range of organically acceptable seed treatments and processes, considering both chemical and physical methods, and test these under organic conditions to determine efficacy.
7. Formulate a code of best practice for the production of certified organic seed, and for the processing of seed on organic farms.
8. To evaluate the participatory research and development approach throughout the entire research process and produce guidelines and materials for best practice. Data will be collected throughout the duration of the project.
Project Documents
• Final Report : Developing a participatory approach to seed production and varietal selection (CTE0201)   (1211k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2002

To: 2006

Cost: £295,609
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Elm Farm Research Centre
Organic Farming              
Fields of Study
Organic Farming