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Why must I use organic seed instead of untreated, non-organic seed?


The organic regulation mandates the use of organic seed unless you cannot find an “equivalent” variety in the quality or quantity that you need. Seed is the foundation of growing a crop, and the requirement in the organic regulation that organic seeds be used when commercially available is a recognition of this principle.

The selection of organic seeds is expanding. I was recently perusing the seed catalog of a Midwestern supplier of organic and non-GMO seeds, and was inspired by the many improvements that continue to be made in organic seed availability.

Organic seed breeders build characteristics into seeds that perform best under organic production methods, whereas non-organic seed suppliers focus on traits for growing systems that rely on chemical inputs. Organic seeds offer characteristics such as good growth when using naturally slow-releasing fertility inputs, quick emergence and canopy for better weed control, and pest-resistance through hairy leaves that lessen insect feeding.

Since many organic seed varieties are not the exact variety you are used to growing, you need to look at several factors to determine if the organic seed is equivalent to the non-organic untreated seed you are accustomed to planting. Compare the characteristics listed for both type of seeds, such as days to maturity, compatibility with your soil type and climate, resistance to pests or disease, and more. If the organic seed offers nearly the same characteristics, it’s likely your certifier will consider it “equivalent.”

The best way to judge a new seed is to trial it on your farm. Purchase a packet/bag or two of several organic varieties and plant them on the edge of a field where you’re growing your favorite variety (and document which varieties are planted where). During the growing season, look over all varieties to assess how they stand up to the tried-and-true version you are growing in the remainder of the field, and keep track of yields from each. You may be surprised how good the organic varieties are!

Trialing organic seed, both when you are in transition to organic and when you are certified, will result in finding the best organic seed varieties for your own operation. I’ve heard many organic farmers say this method has led them to plant organic varieties that perform better than the non-organic ones they had preferred.

Posted: Jun 2007
Answer By: Harriet Behar