In most of the EU, cultivar testing takes place under conventional conditions and testing criteria are adapted to the needs of the conventional system. Therefore, the release of cultivars specifically bred for the organic system might be suppressed and organic farmers cannot identify cultivars suitable for their agricultural system. Based on LIVESEED farmers’ survey, most organic farmers claim that the lack of organic seed of suitable cultivars is the main bottleneck for organic production.
In the first week of February, LIVESEED addressed the need for adapted cultivar trials for organic agriculture in workshops in Brussels, considering official trials for the purpose of variety release and unofficial trials to evaluate the regional suitability of a cultivar.
The first workshop, organised in cooperation with Horizon 2020 INVITE (INnovations in plant VarIety Testing in Europe), focused on the impacts of the new organic regulation (EU) 2018/848, more specifically of the definition of organic heterogeneous material (OHM) and organic varieties suitable for organic production (OV). At the workshop, organic and conventional breeders, representatives of national testing authorities and the CPVO (Community Plant Variety Office), and policymakers discussed on the possibility to adapt DUS (Distinctness, Uniformity, Stability) and VCU (Value for Cultivation and Use) testing for OV.
A seven-year-temporary experiment is foreseen, starting in 2021, in order to ease the launch of OV. Gebhard Rossmanith from Bingenheimer Saatgut/ECO-PB proposed a roadmap for the temporary experiment. As a first step, prototypes for alternative test protocols for organic varieties must be developed, by evaluating the relevance of each testing criterium for farmers, trade, processors, consumers and selection by organic breeders. Thereafter, prototypes must be tested under real conditions together with the testing authorities.
Thomas Weber from DG Sante informed on organisational aspects of the temporary experiment. The potential aims of the temporary experiment are to develop adapted DUS protocols for testing organic varieties, to develop new alternative characteristics for organic varieties, and to set rules/requirements for EU-wide VCU and DUS testing under organic conditions. The LIVESEED workshop directly fed into a meeting by DG Sante that took place on the following day, to develop implementing acts for the temporary experiment.
The second LIVESEED workshop was led by INRAE – National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (France). During the workshop experts discussed and designed innovative cultivar testing models for organic agriculture. After evaluating the needs of organic farmers and the characteristics of organic cultivars, the team envisioned low-budget models involving on-farm trials gathering data using app-based tools. This way more replications and locations flow into statistical evaluation, making results more reliable. The workshop will be continued foreseeably in April.
As a starting point for further developing cultivar testing for organic agriculture, LIVESEED provides an overview on the current organisational models for cultivar testing for organic agriculture and proposes a toolbox for identifying and describing OHM.