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Friday, June 15, 2018

Brown Envelope Seeds submission to DAFM Organic Strategy 2025


Brown Envelope Seeds has been producing certified organic vegetable, herb and cereal seeds for farmers and growers since 2004, on our family farm in West Cork. We produce a catalogue of over 100 varieties every year. We produce as much seed as we can outdoors, to select for traits such as seedling vigour, weed suppression, and germination at low temperature. Those that cannot be produced outdoors are produce under plastic. There is no ordinary vegetable commonly grown here, that cannot produce seed here. 

Along with the Irish Seed Savers Association we are the only vegetable seed producers in Ireland. We work with heritage and modern varieties, selecting for the lines that work best on our farm. Many of the modern varieties that have been bred for conventional agriculture do not perform well under Irish organic conditions, and we find that varieties produced under organic conditions elsewhere, as well as some of the Irish heritage varieties, perform better than their modern counterparts, especially in terms of seed production. We consistently get bet better results in outdoor seed production from Irish bred varieties, than from varieties, grown for conventional farming, in warmer and drier climates. 

On Farm Research
Every year we trial new cultivars to compare with the lines we already carry, but this takes a lot of our resources. No vegetable vegetable variety trials, conventional or organic are carried out anywhere in the country, and growers are obliged to choose varieties based on their own experience, recommendations from other growers, or the information from the suppliers. We welcome the variety trials are now being carried out by the Seed Sovereignty UK & Ireland Program and look forward to the results. https://www.gaiafoundation.org/what-we-do/food-seed-and-climate-change-resilience/seed-sovereignty-uk-ireland-programme/http://brownenvelopeseeds.blogspot.com/2017/03/research-projects.html

We have hosted variety trials on the farm carried out by students on the UCC Masters degree in horticulture. It is a great pity that this course has been dropped by UCC as some very useful research came out of it. 

In 2015 Paul Lyons trialed spinach varieties, and his results showed that the best performing open-pollinated variety was a variety called Abundant Bloomsdale, developed for the organic sector in the US. http://brownenvelopeseeds.blogspot.com/2017/03/research-projects.htmlhttp://brownenvelopeseeds.blogspot.com/2017/03/research-projects.html Current EU legislation prevents us from selling this variety in large quantities.

In 2016 Holly Cairns compared Sweetcorn varieties and demonstrated that the only variety that outperformed Golden Bantam, (which we have been growing out since 2002), was Who Gets Kissed, another variety developed in the Pacific Northwest of the US specifically for organic growers. 

Due to the current seed legislation, as growers of heterogenous material we are only allowed to sell in small packets which means we can only supply small producers and home gardeners with seed. However with the new EU Organic Seed Regulation from January 2021, this will change and we would like to be in a position to supply Irish organic growers. To do this we may have to register new varieties and have them DUS tested which will require external funding.

A timetable is also to be introduced for the compulsory use of organic seed by organic growers. For various reasons, such as economies of scale and higher labour demands, organic seed is more expensive than conventional seed. The incentives for organic growers to use organic seed, especially when they have no evidence of its superior performance, is small. So we have a chicken and egg situation. No seed producer is going to produce significant amounts of organic seed unless the trials are there to show that it performs well. Trials carried out by an independent body or by organic growers will be more convincing that anything we might put on the packet. 

Our work with cereals has shown that some of the Irish heritage varieties perform well under organic conditions and are in demand for small scale production. They could be developed through simple breeding programs to compete with modern varieties and due to their superior nutritional status, and eating qualities, they could be used for bread and other human food. 


1. It is possible to produce all the seed needed by the organic sector in Ireland, in Ireland. Seed self-sufficiency would provide for greater food security, and substitute for imported seed. 

2. The best model for seed production would be a network of organic seed growers, specialising in a small number of varieties, with which they are familiar, as commercial organic growers, and marketed co-operatively. 

3. There is scope for exporting organic seed. 

4. The production and use of organic seed by organic growers in Ireland is limited:

by the current seed directive 
b. by the lack of variety trials showing how it performs on commercial organic farms
by the lack of training in seed production.

5.  New varieties for Irish conditions need to be produced preferably through participatory plant breeding projects, this will require co-ordination between plant breeders, farmers and seed producers. 


That funding be made available to trial vegetable varieties under Irish conditions. This is the first step in facilitating Irish organic seed production.

That funding be made available to assess the quantity and types of seed needed for the organic sector, in Ireland, in order to plan for seed self-sufficiency. 

That further support be given to Irish Seed Savers Association to enable them to grow out and maintain the  National Seed bank. The genetic resources held in it may become invaluable in the future.

That funding be made available for participatory plant breed programs to be initiated, addressing the seed needs of Irish growers. Using Irish heritage varieties, and modern open-pollinated varieties, produced for the organic sector elsewhere, we believe that superior lines for Irish production can be produced. 

That funding be made available to register varieties from outside the EU, shown to perform in Ireland

That funding be made available for the re-introduction of a third level course in organic horticulture and agriculture including seed production as well as more vocational courses around the country. 

Madeline McKeever
Church Cross
Co Cork