The great challenge of 100% eco seeds: will we manage it in time?

Interview with Almudena de la Cruz, Head of Regulatory Affairs at Anove
Almudena de la Cruz - anove

The mass use of exceptional authorisations (untreated conventional seeds) creates a negative image of Spanish ecological produce compared to other markets and is compromising the efforts by the variety genetic improvement programmes for ecological production. Fruit Today talks about this to Almudena de la Cruz, Head of Regulatory Affairs at Anove.

How will the new European legislation (Green Deal) affect breeding companies and the sector in general?

The seed companies are researching to obtain the varieties that are best suited to the production model chosen by the farmer. They are the suppliers of an essential tool in agricultural production and the first link in the agrifood chain, acting as the innovation vector and contributing to increasing the added value of the agrifood productions. The production and supply of ecological seeds will continue being carried out under strict quality and safety regulations, always respecting the conditions imposed by the legislation in force.

In view of the current legislative challenges, seed companies are working very hard to achieve a sufficient supply of seeds for the European ecological production.

The new European website on ecological vegetable reproduction material provides the information about the market of seeds available from all the European databases, which will help both producers and breeders regarding European market know-how.

They have also introduced other types of reproduction materials, such as heterogeneous ecological material and a temporary experiment on ecological varieties suitable for ecological production. From our sector, we have indicated on different occasions that, whatever the production model chosen by the farmer, it is necessary to start off with a quality reproduction material; therefore, under no circumstances should the quality standards of the seeds be reduced.

How is the Ecological Work Group in Anove working to adapt to the future requirements? 

The European Green Deal and, specifically, the Farm to Fork Strategy establishes the goal of reaching 25% of agricultural production using the ecological production model and, to do this, an intense plan of action is going to be deployed to promote a greater demand for fruit and vegetables. This represents a clear opportunity for the Spanish producing sector.

Ecological produce is obtained using a specific production model, regulated by legislation called ecological farming, which allows it to benefit from official certification. Spain is the leader in ecological production surface area in Europe, which competes with other productions such as integrated and conventional crops.

Faced with these challenges, the Work Group at ANOVE is working to ensure that the sector as a whole is getting ready and can face up to these trials in an organised way and with the best possible efficiency, to contribute to greater competitiveness of the Spanish productions.

As breeders, we can cover the input needs in both conventional and ecological seeds for the farmers; but, to do this, we must establish a work plan that allows us to programme our production. We need to know the real demands to be able to adapt our offer.

Do you think that the authorities are preparing the route for the changes that are on the way or, to the contrary, they should be putting their noses to the grindstone? 

The EU has identified the lack of availability of ecological seeds as one of the main limitations for development. Likewise, it indicates the goal of progressively reducing the exceptions that allow the use of untreated conventional seeds instead of ecological seeds. It also recommends the creation of a specific European database regarding the availability of ecological seeds. The Ministry of Agriculture is carrying out improvements to the current database to adjust it to the EU Regulation. Amongst these improvements should be the direct management of the stocks by the suppliers, which would provide greater flexibility to the market, publishing the ecological seed stocks available in real time for the producers.

The agricultural sector needs more research on seed production, particularly in areas with a clear added value for ecological production (that is to say, resistance to pests and diseases or greater efficiency in the use of resources). The increase in the yield of the crops depends to a large extent on the genetics, regardless of the type of production and, therefore, public administrations are essential for promoting research and avoiding the development of regulatory frameworks that limit their application to agriculture.

From the sector, they are transmitting the need to ‘move up a gear’ regarding the exceptions that allow the use of untreated seeds, as in other countries such as Germany or France they are eliminating them for certain crops, and the use of untreated seeds could create a counterproductive image for Spanish eco produce…

The ecological origin of the plants grown for ecological production has been one of the main concerns of the European Union in the new regulation.

The mass use of exceptional authorisations (untreated conventional seeds) in addition to creating a negative image of Spanish ecological produce compared to other markets that mainly use ecological seeds, is endangering the efforts of the variety genetic improvement programmes for ecological production that require a business planning that allows the seed production to be programmed. It is essential to know the real demands and the real situation of the ecological sector to be able to produce and supply the necessary seeds.

Following the example of other European countries, Spain, as the leading country in ecological production in Europe, should develop a joint strategy for gearing up to the change, which allows the ecological seed production companies to work within a safe operational framework.

One of the ‘obstacles’ for ecological seeds involves their higher price, how can this be overcome? Is there any way to do this?

The vegetable reproduction material has been adapting to the greater demand for seeds propagated in ecologically certified conditions. In the current conditions of market demand, the Commission expected to reach 10% of ecological agricultural land for 2030 (a 3% annual increase), a trend that could be achieved by the seed companies. However, in setting the goal of 25% of land used for ecological crops, the supply of seeds for ecological farming would have to be increased sixfold, which would be an authentic challenge for the supply chains given the very tight deadlines.

Great efforts have been made in the ecological variety genetic improvement programmes and in the production of ecological seeds, but breeding a variety until it is put on the market is a slow and expensive journey: between 10 and 12 years of work and an investment of over 1.5 million euros.

The training of the producers in the use of ecological seeds and the impact that it could have on the European markets would be very interesting.

 

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