What are we growing this summer?

May 19, 2022
A new farmer-bred carrot will be growing in BC this summer. Photo credit: FarmFolk CityFolk

Ongoing supply chain disruptions, rising food prices, inflation, and climate change hitting farmers harder every passing year… With everything that is happening in the world right now, many of us are wondering if our food supply is as secure as it should be.

For farmers, this question takes a different shape: is their seed supply as secure as it should be?

Unfortunately, in Canada, the short answer is: probably not. A large majority of vegetable seeds planted on Canadian farms are imported every year, which makes farmers vulnerable to global seed supply chain disruptions.

Organic farmers have an even harder time securing the seeds they need, domestically. It’s estimated that 90% of the organic seeds they grow are imported, and not necessarily optimized for their climates and soil conditions.

Thankfully, a growing number of farmers and their allies are working to make Canada’s seed supply more secure. As a SeedChange supporter, that includes you!

A decade of seed work in Canada

Seeds belong in farmers’ hands. That’s why SeedChange has been working with partners and farmers around the world to breed, save and multiply good seeds since the 1980s. We’ve learned from their expertise and seen countless examples of the positive impact that good, ecological seeds can have – on people’s food supply, on farmers’ wellbeing, and on the environment.

For the past decade, our domestic field program, The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security has been drawing lessons from our global work and doing its part to help farmers grow food in regenerative and climate-resilient ways, here too. How? By making sure Canadian farmers also have the kinds of seeds they need to succeed.

In collaboration with our network of partner organizations across the country, and with the help of more than 200 individual farmers, we’ve been running trials and breeding projects from coast to coast to create new organic varieties of grain and vegetable seeds that grow well in different regions. We’ve also been teaming up to bring back rare varieties, and support seed growers to  help them increase the supply of Canadian-grown seeds.

This summer, we’ll continue to work with farmers on more than a hundred seed trials across the country.

Here’s one example of what we’ll be growing.

A new organic carrot for farmers in BC

Five years ago, our partner in British Columbia, FarmFolk CityFolk, learned from farmers in its network that virtually every organic carrot grown in BC was grown from the same carrot seed variety.

The variety, called Bolero F1, was from a single multinational seed company based in France called Vilmorin – a subsidiary of LimaGrain.

David Catzel and Chris Thoreau, from The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, selecting red carrot roots. Photo credit: FarmFolk CityFolk

Bolero F1 carrots grow reliably in BC, but relying on a single source of carrot seeds means BC farmers are at risk.

If the seed’s supply chain was ever disrupted, or if the seed company decided to end production, they’d be left scrambling to find a replacement, with no guarantee that other varieties would immediately yield a reliable carrot harvest in their growing conditions.

People in BC need to be able to count on delicious, locally grown organic carrots. That means farmers in BC need a reliable supply of organic carrot seeds!

To meet these goals, the CANOVI orange carrot breeding project was born.

In 2018, a group of farmers and researchers at the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Sustainable Food Systems started testing various commercially available open-pollinated carrot varieties and a few carrot breeding lines supplied by Dr. Phil Simon at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

They selected three breeding lines and one commercial cultivar as parent varieties: two for their outstanding flavour, one for its appealing dark orange colour, and the last one for its good flavour and consistent blunt-tipped “Nantes carrot” shape.

Carrots planted in the winter greenhouse at UBC, Jan 2022 Photo credit: UBC

Since then, farmers have grown seeds issued from this mix each summer, testing them in local growing conditions, while their partners at UBC continued to save seeds from the best tasting, most appealing and most resilient offspring.

In 2022, this homegrown carrot variety will be tested once more on various trial and demonstration sites, as well as by FarmFork CityFolk’s Citizen Seed Trial participants, to compare it against the imported Bolero F1 variety.

If the farmer-bred variety performs as well as the imported variety, its seeds will be shared with more growers next year, in larger quantities, to continue refining it. In approximately three years, there could be a new organic carrot variety ready to be formally registered and commercialized in Canada.

Thanks to your support and the help of our many partners, this BC farmer-bred carrot variety could be landing on your plate soon!

Seed work is slow work, but farmers deserve the very best seeds.

With a steady access to good, diversified seeds bred for sustainable growing practices, farmers can grow the best food for all of us, while also making our food supply more resilient to climate change and to global economic shocks.

You can help! If you want to grow your own seeds, support the farmers and seed savers working to make Canada’s seed supply more resilient. Check out our list of Canadian seed companies.

Also sign up for our newsletter for growing tips, inspiring stories like this one, and to find out how you can support farmers doing this crucial work.

A special thanks to the University of British Columbia and FarmFolk City Folk for sharing their work with us.

The research described in this article is part of Organic Science Cluster 3, led by the Organic Federation of Canada in collaboration with the Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada at Dalhousie University, supported by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Canadian Agricultural Partnership- AgriScience Program, and by SeedChange and The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security.