Growers' Group to Work With USDA Seed Banks
By Jim De
March 25, 1999
A budding cooperative project of researchers, organic growers and others
that begins this week could help replenish the nation's seed banks. More
important, it could create market opportunities for new public and heirloom
The Agricultural Research Service,
USDA's chief scientific agency, maintains
the National Plant Germplasm System.
Its 27 repositories now hold about 437,000 specimens of germplasm--seed,
cuttings and other tissue. Thousands of accessions are added each year.
Researchers worldwide use the germplasm to breed crops with improved yield,
nutrition, resistance to pests, disease and environmental stress or other
ARS is cooperating with the Farmer Cooperative Genome Project to test a new
way for organic growers, farmer cooperatives and small seed companies to tap
into this storehouse of genetic diversity. FCGP members will grow fresh
supplies of germplasm, following NPGS guidelines. These ensure, for example,
that regenerated seed is true to type--not contaminated by pollen from nearby
crops of the same species.
FCGP members will also develop marketable new varieties from germplasm they
may never have known about otherwise. For example, an ARS
in Corvallis, Ore., has more than 400 heirloom pear varieties. In Pullman,
Wash., ARS maintains more than 200 lines of garlic. These represent most of the
crop's genetic diversity. Only a few varieties account for nearly all
commercial production, according to horticulturist Richard Hannan. He's based
at ARS' Western Regional
Plant Introduction Station in Pullman.
On March 27-28 in Salem, Ore., Hannan, Corvallis ARS plant pathologist
Postman and other scientists are among scheduled panelists at FCGP's first
general meeting. Other plants with FCGP potential include heirloom varieties
and wild relatives of tomato, lettuce, bean, broccoli, Egyptian onion, radish,
blue and other Native American corn, blackberry, strawberry, Turkish grain
legumes and little-known herbs such as black cumin.
More than 200 small family farmers, organic farmers, seed producers,
breeders and others will participate in FCGP, according to
J.J. Haapala. He is research and education
director of Oregon Tilth, a growers' group in Salem that certifies organic
growers and processors. Haapala administers a USDA
Fund for Rural America
grant to the FCGP.
Scientific contact: Richard M.
Hannan, ARS Western Regional Plant Introduction Station, Pullman, Wash.,
phone (509) 335-1502, fax (509) 335-6654,