Factors affecting the development of the organic seed sector


A.Borgen1, A.-M. D. Gustavsson2, J. Kieksi3, T. Johnsen4, R. Andersson2 and R. Eriksen5


1Scanagri, Vester Farimagsgade 6(5th floor), DK-1606 Copenhagen, Denmark

2Swedish Board of Agriculture, Department for Crop Production and Environment, S-551 82 Jönköping, Sweden

3Plant Production Inspection Centre (KTTK), P.O. Box 111, F-32201 Loimaa, Finland

4 Norwegian Agriculture Inspection Service, Postboks 3, N-1431 Ås, Norway

5Plant Directorate, Skovbrynet 20, DK-2800 Lyngby, Denmark


Keywords: Seed, certification, plant pathology, EU-regulation, organic



Huge differences are seen in the use of organic seed in different countries. In some countries, the majority of organic farmers uses organic seed of the dominating crops, while organic farmers in other countries predominately uses conventional seed. The IFOAM basic standards, the EU-regulation (Council regulation (EEC) No 2092/91), and standards in most countries worldwide request organic seed to be used if such seed is available. If not, the competent authority can accept the farmer to use conventional seed. Before 2004, the EU regulation on organic agriculture will be revised. The current analysis is conducted as a background paper for this revision.


Description and approach

A comparative study in the Nordic countries shows that the main factor for the development of the organic seed sector is the inspection procedures actually controlling that organic seed is used whenever available. The first years, the competent authority in Norway granted a general derogation to use conventional seed, since the supply of organic seed was insufficient to meet the demand in the country. This created difficulties for the Norwegian organic seed producers, since they have had to compete with the cheaper conventional seed on the market. The competent authorities in Denmark and Finland have for several years only accepted the use of conventional seed in cases, where organic seed of an appropriate variety for the actual purpose was not available. This has helped the development of the organic seed sector in these countries. The organic seed sector in Sweden has developed rapidly in the last few years where the competent authority has imposed on the farmers that conventional seed only can be used in crops where organic seed is not available.


The seed certification system does not ensure that certified seed is free from seed borne diseases. As organic seed is not treated with fungicides, the seed health issue comes more into focus. A large proportion of the organic seed lots are discarded because of seed borne diseases. This makes it less profitable to produce the organic seed.


Conclusions and recommendations

After 2003, there will still be a need for some conventional seed, since organic seed of appropriate varieties and quality will not be available in all regions and all crops. It is essential for the development of the organic seed sector that improved inspection systems are implemented in certification programs. The EU-regulation on organic agriculture (or seed certification programs) may be adjusted to ensure that only healthy organic seed can be marketed.


To promote the use and production of organic seed, the competent authorities and inspectors have to develop appropriate systems in form of updated data-bases, to monitor the availability of organic seed in their area, and to control that conventional seed is only used in cases, where organic seed is not available.


To further develop the organic seed sector, the concept of availability of organic seed has to be defined in more detail, including seed health issues.


To minimize the risk of seed borne diseases thresholds should be discussed and possibly defined for the relevant seed borne diseases. The competent authority should request to use organic seed in cases, where such seed meets the standards for seed health.


There is a need to develop techniques to control seed borne diseases in order to minimize the volume of discarded organic seed.



Borgen, A. , A-M. D. Gustavsson , J. Kieksi, T. Johnsen, R. Andersson and R. Eriksen (In press). Organic seed in the Nordic countries. TemaNord 2002.