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Photo: Seeds of cultivated and wild forms of peanuts, corn, rice, coffee, soybean, hops, pistachio, and sorghum. Link to photo information
Seeds from domestic crops (inner circle) are usually larger, lighter in color, and more uniform than their wild relatives. Clockwise from top: Peanuts, corn, rice, coffee, soybean, hops, pistachio, and sorghum. Click the image for more information about it.

ARS Workshops Boost Public Seed Project

By Luis Pons
August 13, 2004

Workshops run by the Agricultural Research Service are a big part of a collaborative crop-seed breeding and production effort aimed at small-scale growers in the northeastern United States.

The Public Seed Initiative is an on-farm breeding and seed-production project involving the ARS Plant Genetic Resources Unit (PGRU) in Geneva, N.Y.; Cornell University's departments of plant breeding and horticulture; the Cooperative Genome Project of the nonprofit organization Oregon Tilth; and the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) of New York.

According to PGRU plant geneticist Larry Robertson, the project connects small seed producers with seed companies, university researchers, nonprofit groups and government agencies. It also seeks to improve distribution of new vegetable varieties, spread knowledge about small-scale commercial seed production and plant breeding, improve regional growers' capacity to provide commercial-grade seed and produce vegetable varieties specially adapted to the needs of organic and regional market farmers.

The project's series of full-day, hands-on workshops cover all aspects of seed cleaning and processing. The centerpiece of the sessions is a mobile seed-processing unit equipped with many small-scale, seed-cleaning devices.

This year's first workshop takes place tomorrow in Amherst, Mass., at NOFA's Massachusetts Summer Conference from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Other workshops are scheduled for Sept. 8 at the Green Thumb in Water Mill, N.Y.; Sept. 14 at PGRU in Geneva; Sept. 24 and 25 at the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, Maine; Oct. 7 at Lockwood Farm in Hamden, Conn.; Oct. 22 at Peacework Organic Farm in Newark, N.Y.; and Nov. 8 at Gorzynski's Ornery Farm in Cochecton Center, N.Y.

Preregistration is required for most of these workshops. Information is available online at, by phone at (315) 787-2396 and by e-mail at

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.