Organic Agriculture & Variety Listing

Promoting national listing of varieties adapted to organic agriculture

One of the aims of the "Seeds and Sustainable Agriculture" plan (action 3.3) was to define provisions for identifying varieties adapted to organic agriculture (OA), and in particular to define specific procedures for listing and post-listing tests to characterise the adaptation of varieties to farming methods in organic agriculture. This was achieved by writing the protocol for the examination of common wheat varieties adapted to OA conditions and the registration of two common wheat varieties. The system set up is a step forward but has not contributed to a significant development in varieties for organic agriculture.

In order to go further and meet the needs for adapted varieties, which are essential for farmers and processors in the organic industry, the following plan (Seeds and Plants for Sustainable Agriculture plan) has included the creation of a commission dedicated to variety testing for organic agriculture (CISAB) within the CTPS (the official committee for variety listing in France). This commission should help to foster sharing of experiences and approaches amongst species experts and to promote listing of varieties adapted to organic conditions. This commission met for the first time in December 2017.

The purpose of this commission is to:

- create a forum for reflection and transversal discussion within the CTPS,

- identify the needs and gaps of organic farming, processing and consumers for different species, in terms of varieties and seeds.

- promote national listing of varieties adapted to organic farming and clearly identified as such.

 

This commission is intended to operate in interaction with the species sections of the CTPS, and with the Seeds Commission of the French Committee for Organic Agriculture.

The CISAB is a commission which works to foster discussion, recommendations and questions, and to facilitate cross-cutting exchange between sections of the CTPS. Decisions, regulations, registrations are carried out by the CTPS species sections.  

First tasks of the CISAB Commission

Issues addressed in CISAB’s first year of existence include:

What are the characteristics sought for varieties adapted to OA?

First observation: conventional agriculture is moving towards less dependence on pesticides, with developments in varietal resistance, organic regulations and agronomic strategies which discourage the growth of weeds and pathogens. Variety characteristics sought by conventional agriculture have become closer to those of organic agriculture.

One of the main differences today is that organic agriculture is looking for varieties that are more competitive with weeds or facilitate the use of alternative techniques to chemical weeding. Moreover, competitive power (covering power, height, row closure dates), which is important for weed control, is also a determining factor in the case of crops frequently grown in combination in organic agriculture. Furthermore, the absence of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer has a strong impact on yield and technological quality for certain species. These characteristics are not specific but may require testing in organic farming situations, as is the case for the organic common wheat regulation.

What potential barriers are there for promoting variety offer in organic agriculture? There are two major obstacles: the availability of varieties adapted to organic conditions (varietal research), and the availability of seeds and seedlings multiplied with organic farming.

Among the reasons for the lack of varieties adapted to OA in France, we can cite the following:

  • return on investment too low for breeding companies. Is the current model of financing plant breeding through intellectual property rights suitable for this limited market?
  • difficulty of creating adapted varieties for all species in OA farming systems,
  • lack of public and private breeding,
  • lack of knowledge of varietal characteristics t sought in OA,
  • obstacles linked to listing (no OA regulations in France except for common wheat; DUS rules and the cost of registration perceived by some as too demanding and too high),
  • lack of OA variety testing networks to identify adapted varieties. The screening networks (soft wheat and triticale) coordinated by ITAB, with the support of Arvalis, are a good example of pooling resources which could be replicated by other species groups.

 

Obstacles to the availability of seeds and seedlings are technical (diseases, pests, dirtying of seed production plots, climate stresses), economic (cost of producing small lots) and organisational (lack of multiplier farmers, matching between varieties produced in organic conditions and the demands of OA farmers).

The actions in progress are:

- Investigating practices for OA variety listing and testing in the other countries of the Community catalogue.

- Taking into account of the new EU regulation on organic production (2018/848).

- Identifying priority species for providing specific listing procedures for OA.

Find out more

See also