Plant Breeders Look to the Past for Seeds Suited to Organic Growing

In the post-WWII era, as farmers leaned increasingly on monocultures drenched in pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, seed breeders began developing genetic strains suited to those conditions. Funded by industry research money, they bred seeds designed to flourish in artificially controlled surroundings with heavy chemical inputs. Organic farmers, however, do not grow plants in these conditions, and today’s commonly used seed strains are poorly suited to their work. As organic farming grows, so grows the market for sturdy seeds that are naturally disease resistant and suited to variable soil conditions. Such seeds are developed by resuscitating specimens from the pre-war era and breeding them for modern organic conditions. “We need varieties that are real workhorses that can take us through tough times,” said Steve Peters at Seeds of Change. “We’re looking for reliable yield, rather than the top yield under the best circumstances, and we don’t want to forget flavor at the expense of other traits.”