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Organic growers to benefit from innovative partnership for joint faculty

Posted by struscott | October 5, 2009

Everyone talks about innovative ways for public-private partnerships to work together to grow local food economies.

In Jefferson County, WSU Extension has a new faculty member specializing in organic seed and plant breeding, and outreach. So does the Organic Seed Alliance, a national nonprofit research organization also based in Jefferson County, with offices in Maine and Colorado.

The innovation is that it’s the same person. WSU and OSA have come together to fund a joint faculty position that brings organic seed expertise to networks of growers locally and nationally. John Navazio, a nationally recognized expert in organic seed production, serves the joint mission of the two organizations by working directly with growers, providing sustainable agriculture research and education.

John Navazio, Katherine Baril, Micaela Colley“In hard economic times, we really want to support innovation among our growers and position them for new markets and industry. The WSU administration was very supportive of the opportunity to collaborate to fund this new position,” said Katherine Baril, director of WSU Jefferson County Extension. “With this partnership we get world-class research right out in the field working directly with local growers. You can see the difference having John’s expertise available to them is having.”

Navazio is well known for his work in educating farmers in practical on-farm plant breeding, variety trials, and organic seed production. Early successes of the partnership include a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to fund Navazio’s work on a national organic breeding and a variety trial project in partnership with Cornell University, Oregon State University, and the University of Wisconsin. Another initiative attracting USDA funding is development of new farmer-owned organic seed cooperatives. The cooperatives will encourage and support growers to expand production of high-demand organic seeds both locally and nationally.

The new affiliation with WSU Extension will enable Navazio and OSA program director Micaela Colley to bring their expertise to broader agricultural audiences. Colley is working with Navazio to develop and teach a new online WSU course in plant breeding for organic agriculture, which should be available in spring 2010.

“The Alliance already has a history of strong partnerships with university research and extension programs throughout the country, in part due to the specialized nature of organic seed,” said Colley. “Sharing John’s time is a natural fit since it expands the expertise available through WSU and extends the reach of OSA’s work.”

Colley worked with university researchers, Extension programs, seed industry professionals, and farmers who work within the eOrganic Community of Practice to develop the Organic Seed Resource Guide that is available through the eXtension Web site (www.eXtension.org). The Alliance also established and manages a national producer database of sources for organic and biodynamic seed.

For more information on the Organic Seed Alliance, visit http://www.seedalliance.org.

To learn more about WSU Jefferson County Extension go to http://jefferson.wsu.edu.