Certified organic seeds for crops and other organic agricultural uses has been a long-standing problem within the organic industry. Seed availability and debates over organic vs. non-organic seed production systems both play a part.
The National Organic Program (NOP) requires crop and plant producers to use organic seeds, annual seedlings and planting stock within their operations. Organic seeds defined, means seeds that are untreated, or treated only with allowed substances found on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.
If growers plant seed treated with a prohibited substance, the land itself must wait three years for certification. NOP considers planting treated seed the same as applying the prohibited substance directly to the soil.
Exceptions to the NOP Organic Seed Policy
- An organic producer may use non-organically produced, untreated seeds and planting stock to produce an organic crop if there is no organic seed variety commercially available.
- Organically produced seed must, without exception be used when the crop is an edible sprout or an annual transplant.
The Organic Seed Debate
Since NOP guidelines say you must use organic seeds unless organic is unavailable, a good faith effort is required on the part of the grower to locate organic seed. Organic seeds aren't always available, so many organic growers agree that the exception policies are fair. However, some growers who work hard to find organic seed, along with consumers who believe in organic from the soil up, don't agree with the exceptions.
The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) points out that development of the organic seed industry, along with increased commercial availability of organically grown seeds, is key to assuring organic seed use by growers.
What if You Can't Find Organic Seed?
An organic certification agent can grant the rights to use alternative seed when an organically grown variety is commercially unavailable. The grower must follow some rules in order to use non-organic seed.
- A grower must make a good faith effort to find and use organic seed before turning to non-organic seed. This includes contacting a minimum of three organic seed suppliers to see if organic seeds are available. Written evidence of contact is required, and may include letters, faxes, e-mail correspondence and phone logs.
- Growers who do use non-organic seed must inform their certification agent about the percentage of organic seed vs. total seed used per acre of land.
- Growers must supply their organic certification agent with records that include justification for non-organic seed use.