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Organic Growers Join With ARS to Retain Crop Diversity

By Kathryn Barry Stelljes
October 20, 1999

More than 200 organic seed farmers are growing 800 breeding lines of traditional crop plants provided by the National Plant Germplasm System. The system is maintained by the Agricultural Research Service, USDA's chief scientific wing.

The growers' effort, known as the Farmer Cooperative Genome Project, hopes to provide farmers and gardeners with a wider selection of crop varieties than they can obtain commercially.

For example, the growers are now working with 100 garlic lines provided by ARS' Western Regional Plant Introduction Station in Pullman, Wash. Rich Hannan, horticulturist at the Pullman facility, serves as an informal liaison between ARS and the grower group. J.J. Haapala, an organic seed grower in Oregon, coordinates the project.

ARS will also benefit, as growers follow strict protocols and document crop characteristics for use by the germplasm system. The farmers also return some of the seed to ARS for storage and future use by researchers.

ARS maintains a network of 26 repositories nationwide that preserve and regenerate germplasm--seed and other reproductive tissues--of crops and their wild relatives. The system houses more than 400,000 accessions comprising more than 10,000 species. An accession is a genetically distinct group of plants such as a crop variety or wild subspecies.

The Farmer Cooperative Genome Project, based in Junction City, Ore., started in 1998 with a USDA Fund for Rural America grant. More details on the project appear in the October issue of ARS' Agricultural Research magazine and on the web at:


Scientific contact: Rich Hannan, ARS Western Regional Plant Introduction Station, Pullman, Wash., phone (509) 335-1502, fax (509) 335-6654,