Organic seed health. An inventory of issues and a report on case studies : D 2.5

Groot, S.P.C.; Klaedtke, Stephanie; Messmer, Monika; Rey, Frederic


Because of the need for more sustainable agriculture, the European commission has set its target for 2030 to have at least one quarter of the farmland in the European Union under organic farming practices. The use of healthy seeds or vegetative propagation material forms the basis of sustainable crop production. The use of organic seeds is an integral and obligatory part of organic farming. An organic seed is defined as a seed of which the mother plant or parent plant has been produced following the principles of organic agriculture. Due to shortage in volume and diversity of organic seeds, a large amount of conventionally produced seeds is still used after official approval by Member States. This derogation for conventional untreated seed in organic agriculture will end in 2036. Both the increase in area of organic agriculture and the use 100% organic seeds call for large efforts in organic seed production and research. This report describes the state of the art and research results on the production of heathy organic seeds, as performed in the frame of the LIVESEED project, with support from the European Horizon 2020 program.
The importance of using high quality organic seeds for crop production, and general challenges in this are described in the introduction, Chapter 1. Unfortunately, organic seed quality is not always optimal. One reason can be pathogens infecting the mother plants, from which some can travel in or on the seeds to the next generation. Seed production in many cases like vegetables or biennial species takes longer than crop harvest used for food or feed production, mother plants are exposed longer to pressure from weeds, pests, diseases, and abiotic stress. Organic seed production is therefore more difficult than conventional and requires more labour, increasing the production costs. Organic seed health is based on a multitude of factors and cannot simply be managed through one-size-fits-all solutions such as curative seed treatments.
Use of seeds produced under organic conditions can also have benefits, as organic soils may have a richer and more diverse microbiome and part of this microbiome enters the seed during development. Although much more research is needed, there are indications that certain microorganisms in this seed microbiome play a role in tolerance of the emerging seedling toward biotic and abiotic stress in the field. Beneficial microorganisms isolated from the seed microbiome can be applied in seed coating as biocontrol agents.