Organic Breeding or Breeding for Organic?

It has been more than 20 years since Bejo Zaden first introduced its organic program. The organic program was introduced as a logical result of the Bejo vision on sustainability and innovation. During this period of 20 years, Bejo Zaden developed an organic assortment covering a range of 40 crops and 150 varieties. In comparison to its conventional assortment; which covers 50 crops with close to 1200 varieties, this is what Bejo terms as a “smart assortment” covering the widest range of growing area’s with a smart choice of varieties.

In recent years, many activities have been deployed to promote alternative breeding systemsthat are supposedly  better suited for organic farming, but is that the case? According to Bejo Zaden, the value of the organic seed program should not be limited by extra regulatory views, but instead the organic seed sector should also have access to the latest technological and sustainability solutions which the sector needs so badly. This view also corresponds with the growers expectations. 

Breeding for Organic

Bejo is of the opinion that modern hybrids with a high degree of uniformity do fit very well in modern organic farm systems. A common organic farm practice for larger operations such as mechanized weed control, calls for the highest level of uniformity to allow for mechanical weeding and flaming. Uniformity is further needed at later stage in order to reduce the number of harvest moments, to avoid unnecessary waste of unmarketable produce, and to control labour costs. These criteria are making breeding systems that select for a higher level of diversity in the field unviable for larger mechanized farming operations.  

Breeding for organic is a way of selecting suitable crosses, selections, or existing varieties at the earliest stage possible to fit the organic seed program. Hybrid crosses are tested under organic conditions in the target sales areas and are selected directly from the initial breeder’s conventional trial field. This way, the Bejo organic program has maximum choice of genetic material potentially suited for a specific organic area or market, and can realize the desired variety traits much faster and with more precision than breeders using only Open pollinated varieties.

During a workshop organized by Demeter International in Echzell, Germany, Bram Weijland explained to the audience that the currently proposed rules for organic breeding are denying hybrid seeds the position in organic farming it deserves.