By Jade Markus
Organic farmers in Western Canada are turning to conventional seed as eager selling and limited production means few certified organic supplies are available for the growing season ahead, say industry specialists from across the Prairies.
“Peas and lentils are getting nearly impossible to find in organic,” said Laura Telford, organic sector development specialist at Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.
Pea and lentil seed is also scarce in Saskatchewan, according to Will Oddie of SaskOrganics.
“I suspect that lentils and peas may be a little harder to get this year. There haven’t been the best growing conditions the last couple of years for pulses,” he said.
He added that in any given year new seed varieties are less likely to be found in Saskatchewan’s organic community.
I think what’s happened is we’ve lost a number of organic seed producers over the years. – Laura Telford, MAFRD
Telford said high prices prompted farmers to sell pea and lentil supplies that might have normally have been held for seed. Pulses aren’t only seeds in short supply.
“I just started looking this week for organic cereal seed in general, and I think what’s happened is we’ve lost a number of organic seed producers over the years,” Telford said.
The trade is mostly farmer-to-farmer, and not many producers are involved in certified organic seed production. Telford said she has received a number of phone calls from new producers this year regarding seeds.
“They wouldn’t necessarily have their own organic seed, and they wouldn’t have networks that they buy them from, so that’s a challenge.”
Organic corn and soybeans are becoming increasingly more difficult to source, as the majority of the U.S. and Canada’s acreage for corn and soy is grown with GM varieties, which can’t be used for organic production. “Finding corn and soy is getting harder every year,” Telford said.
Telford said there’s only one seed grower in Manitoba who produces non-GMO soy. He had three varieties, but has sold most of his supplies, and now has just one variety left.
The limited availability of certified organic seed means many farmers are turning to conventional supplies.
Organic standards state that producers must exert due diligence in sourcing organic seed first.
Before using conventional seed, producers must call at least three well-known organic seed-sellers, and log those calls.
“So that’s the hierarchy — you can look for organic seed first and then you can look for conventional seed second,” Telford said.
But even still, seed must be non-GMO.
“It’s hard to say how many farmers are very keen to find the organic seed, but end up using the non-organic seed” said Iris Vaisman, agronomist at Prairie Organic Grain Initiative, which is housed by Organic Alberta, but is a partnership across the entire Prairie organic sector.
Since organic certification standards don’t require producers to use organic-only seed, the shortage won’t limit the amount of organic crops grown this year.
“So I think if farmers have access to it then they’ll get it,” Vaisman said. “In the case where they can’t find it they can source their seed from non-organic sources.”