Organic Seed Production Offers Profit Potential


June 24, 2015 - Sourcing organic seeds has emerged as a vexing problem for organic producers, who often search in vain for certified seed in varieties suited to their needs. But the shortage of specialty seed can offer lucrative opportunities to regional organic seed growers, according to a study by researchers at the University of Georgia (UGA) extension.

The UGA study, funded by Organic Farming Research Foundation, combined field trials and economic analysis of organic seed production for cover crops suitable for Georgia farms. Researchers found that profits from production of organic cereal rye and crimson clover seed ranged from $338 to $356 per acre in the second year of the study.

Returns in the study’s first year were much lower, reflecting trial-and-error missteps, including harvesting equipment that lost too much seed and planting on unfertilized land.

UGA researchers focused on cereal rye and crimson clover, cover crops traditionally planted in the Southeast to build the soil, provide forage for livestock, increase soil fertility, smother weeds and reduce soil erosion. However use of cover crops dwindled in the 1960s and ‘70s due in part to increased use of commercial nitrogen fertilizer. Reduced demand for cover crop seed led to loss of processing and marketing infrastructure, and scarcity of regionally-adapted seed.

In recent decades, cover crop seed production has become concentrated in the Northwest and Northeast, where varieties developed for the Southeast do not produce good yields.

However, organic farming relies heavily on the multiple benefits of cover cropping, and demand for regional seed varieties is rising along with the exploding demand for organic food and products. The UGA study provides a wealth of information for Georgia farmers interested in this re-emerging market, from specific planting dates and seedbed preparation, to weed control, pollination, harvest equipment and seed storage - even details on Georgia’s seed and certification laws.

While it focuses on Georgia, the study also provides a roadmap for growers in other regions interested in learning about the challenges, opportunities and economics of organic seed production.

The study was conducted by researchers Julia W. Gaskin, Amanda R. Smith and Ray Hicks, in collaboration with Relinda Walker of Walker Farms and farmer Jeff Wilson.


Maria Gaura – OFRF