Organic Agriculture & Variety Listing

Promoting national listing of varieties adapted to organic agriculture

In order to meet the needs for adapted varieties, which are essential for farmers and processors in organic production, a commission dedicated to varieties for organic agriculture (CISAB) was set up within the CTPS in 2017. This commission aims to foster the sharing of experiences and approaches amongst species and to promote the registration of varieties adapted to organic production in the Official French Catalogue.

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 production and clearly identified as such.

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

The commission is composed of administration representatives including the National Institute of Origin and Quality (INAO, in charge of all official quality signs), researchers from INRAE (French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment), seed organisations (Semae, FNAMS), agricultural technical institutes with several representatives from ITAB (French applied agricultural research organisation dedicated to organic food and farming), and organic professionals (farmers, millers, cooperatives).

Representatives of the organic sector participate in the majority of the CTPS Sections as well as the Plenary Committee, and in certain VCUS commissions.

In addition to the organisation of CISAB and the CTPS, organic farming is also present in variety testing. A specific evaluation system for organic farming has existed since 2010 for soft winter wheat. A durum wheat variety for organic production is currently being evaluated in a special trial starting in autumn 2020. For soybeans, the national testing network includes 2 organic sites. The triticale registration network includes organic sites as of autumn 2021.

What are the characteristics sought for varieties adapted to organic production?

Competitive power against weeds is important in organic farming as seen with these two soft wheat varieties:

Conventional agriculture is moving towards less dependence on pesticides, with developments in varietal resistance, biological 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 farming.

One of the main differences today is that organic farming 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 association that are more common in organic farming. Furthermore, the absence of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser 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 network.

 It is also important to consider differences in use and processing. In organic farming, there are more local food systems, and farm-made products for human consumption, which can lead to adapting the characteristics required for processing value.

What potential barriers are there to increasing the range of varieties on offer for organic farming?

There are two major obstacles: the availability of varieties adapted to organic conditions (plant breeding), and the availability of seeds and seedlings multiplied in organic farming.

Among the reasons for the lack of varieties adapted to organic production 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 organic farming systems,
  • lack of public and private breeding,
  • lack of knowledge of varietal characteristics sought in organic production,
  • obstacles linked to listing (no dedicated listing rules for varieties adapted to organic production in France except for common wheat; DUS rules and the cost of registration perceived by some as too demanding and too high),
  • lack of variety testing networks in organic situations to identify adapted varieties. The screening networks (cereals) coordinated by ITAB, Arvalis and APCA (national umbrella of the French Chambers of Agriculture) 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, climate stresses), economic (cost of producing small lots) and organisational (lack of multiplier farmers, matching between varieties produced in organic conditions and demands from organic farmers).

What are the practices of variety testing and listing for organic production in other EU Member states

Two studies were conducted in 2019 on variety testing systems for organic production, one by Liveseed (report available), the other by an informal group of GEVES’s European counterparts for VCUS studies (this study is more focused on registration systems). Almost all European countries were surveyed (missing countries: Finland, Sweden, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta). However, the information is not always very precise.

Species for which there are specific measures registration for organic production in 2019 are cereals, soft winter wheat and spring wheat, winter and spring barley, winter spelt, triticale and rye. For the other species families, Austria has recently set up a scheme for soya and Latvia has announced the possibility of including potatoes.

There are 3 types of testing systems:

all yield trials are carried out with organic farming, often with specific disease trials in the conventional network to complete information on disease resistances (case of soft winter wheat in Denmark, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, France from 2020 and in Germany for spring wheat, winter barley, spring barley and spring oat, and spring barley in Estonia)

some trials in organic conditions are conducted in addition to trials using conventional farming (Austria: spring wheat, winter barley, spring oat, winter spelt, winter rye, potato and soya)

double networks, one in conventional conditions and one in organic conditions (soft winter wheat in France up until 2020)

Austria and Switzerland have national registration networks that include sites in organic conditions, so all registered varieties are tested in one or two organic situations (no country has only trials in organic conditions for national listing).

Several countries explain the lack of a specific organic procedure by the absence of applications for varieties specifically targeting the organic market. However, this is changing fast; many countries are trying to respond to the demands of organic production, and each year new organic production schemes are emerging that must be considered.

The Liveseed study also presents what is being done in post-registration testing for field crops, as well as for vegetables and fruit trees. In most countries, variety testing under organic conditions is dependent on a research programme and there is little regular, centralised and shared evaluation. 

What approach should be proposed to the CTPS Sections in order to include organic production in the registration process?

For species with VCUS examinations, the approach consists of three steps.

1) identify characteristics sought by organic farmers, processors and consumers of organic products.

2) build the testing system by using existing variety testing systems, or even by encouraging them to evolve towards "less pesticides" and more diversification of cropping systems. For each characteristic, its sensitivity to production systems (organic or conventional) must be considered. If the classification of varieties is not influenced by the cropping system (weak genotype x management interaction), the characteristic could be assessed in either organic or conventional systems. This is the case for the most heritable traits such as height, earliness and most disease resistances (especially for the major genes). Depending on the species, the systems may therefore be different (see illustration below).

3) The last step is to adapt the rules for registration.

For vegetable species, the first step shall be to raise awareness of users on gathered data during registration process. For vegetable growers (organic and conventional) and gardeners, GEVES is working on providing them with a searchable database of varieties and their characteristics, to help them in their choice of variety. The information included in this future database comes from official tests carried out by GEVES as part of the testing for listing in the official catalogue.

 

 

Find out more:

  • Presentation at EUCARPIA March 2021 "Breeding and seed sector innovations for organic food systems”

DUS testing and varieties

Today, organic production may use varieties bred under conventional conditions, or varieties that have been bred in the final stages under organic conditions, or varieties bred for organic production but with the first years of nurseries under conventional conditions, or varieties bred under organic conditions during the entire breeding process. In addition, organic production also uses old varieties, or new populations resulting from "breeding" work using old populations or from creation by multiple crossing. Indeed, varieties with a high level of heterogeneity are sought to have a potential for evolution and adaptation to local conditions.

The European Regulation on organic farming (2018/848) integrates two new types of genetic material, to meet the needs of organic farming: Organic Heterogeneous Material and Organic Varieties Adapted to Organic Production. Both are defined by a high degree of heterogeneity.

The ongoing implementation of this new European Regulation is an opportunity to share with various organic stakeholders what DUS studies are and in particular what DUS means for the variety catalogue.

The aim of the catalogue is to support users by providing them with a description of the variety that identifies the variety that is distinct (D) from other varieties and guarantees that the variety purchased in year x will be the same as in year y (S: stability). Uniformity (U) facilitates distinctness and stability.

The catalogue of varieties currently includes varieties with a very high level of uniformity (lines, simple hybrids), but also varieties with heterogeneity, such as synthetic varieties (particularly for forage species) and population varieties (mainly for vegetable crops). The DUS depends on the genetic structure of the varieties (lines, hybrids, populations)

CISAB and GEVES will be working in particular on DUS in the coming years through their participation in the temporary experimentation on Organic Varieties Adapted to Organic Production defined in the European regulation 2018/848. Should we and how can we change the protocols used in DUS?

 

Find out more:

 

Varieties registered using an evaluation system adapted to organic production

Species Name of variety Year of registration Breeder Maintainer
Soft winter wheat Hendrix 2011 INRAE Agri Obtentions SA (FR)
Soft winter wheat Skerzzo 2011 INRAE Agri Obtentions SA (FR)
Soft winter wheat Geny 2018 INRAE Agri Obtentions SA (FR)
Soft winter wheat Gwastell 2018 INRAE Agri Obtentions SA (FR)
Soft winter wheat Grafik 2018 INRAE Agri Obtentions SA (FR)
Soft winter wheat Gwenn 2019 INRAE Agri Obtentions SA (FR)
Soft winter wheat Gambetto 2020 INRAE Agri Obtentions SA (FR)
Soft winter wheat LD Voile 2020 Lemaire Deffontaines Lemaire Deffontaines (FR)
Soft winter wheat LD Chaine 2021 Lemaire Deffontaines Lemaire Deffontaines (FR)

See also