Weather forecasts of tempests and floods for this first weekend in November limited work in the garden. I looked forward therefore to meeting other growers and farmers from all Ireland at the Organic Trust AGM held this year at The Grain Store at Ballymaloe House near Midleton, Co. Cork.
The focus naturally was on large-scale production, prices, routes to market, adding value and the outlook for Irish farming and in particular the benefits of farming organically. I had a particular interest in the keynote speaker who came from America. Mr Matt Dillon is the founding director of the Organic Seed Alliance. This organisation educates farmers and growers in seed production and plant breeding and develops regenerative farmer oriented seed systems.
Matt’s father farmed making full use of agrichemicals. He died from a disease which Matt believes is linked to levels of nitrates in the well which supplied their home with drinking water. This had a big bearing on Matt developing the means and research to farm organically. www.organicseedalliance.org is a result of all this personal awareness and it has developed in to an important movement.
After a fire destroyed a large collection of Matt’s seed varieties, the OSA decided that the farmers are the best people to become the active seed savers and the breeders of new varieties. Over 400 farmers are now involved with the OSA in this important work.
Concentration in the seed industry has led to less choice and higher prices for American farmers. The trend where large companies like Monsanto buy up smaller seed companies is well outlined in a report published in December 2009 called ‘Out of Hand: Farmers face the consequences of a consolidated seed industry’.
USA law has permitted the patenting of seed variety characteristics such as heat tolerance in broccoli or a certain yellow colour in a bean variety. In my view this is bad law and goes against the more sustainable laws of nature. Patents on seed traits are no more valid than attempting to claim one owns gravity.
Saving seed is not difficult but it is harder in a small garden as plants grow quite big when they are going to seed and this takes up valuable space. However I could begin with peas and beans, and that is my plan for next year. Meanwhile I will allow the Lamb’s Lettuce, Rocket and any other plants not in the way to self seed as before. It is very handy to notice seedlings of various salad leaves poking out from crevices in walls and footpaths as well as in the veg patches where their parents grew.