How should the organic community respond to modern breeding techniques?

Session I: 10:00am - 12:00pm

New technologies are changing our ability to develop new plant varieties, challenging the organic community to determine which methods are in line with organic principles and which should be excluded. The workshop explains techniques being discussed here in the US and internationally in the context of organic regulations, while panelists will lead attendees through diverse viewpoints on modern technologies to present pro and con arguments.

Speakers: Brian Baker, Belcairn Concerns, LLC; Michael Mazourek, Cornell University; Tom Willey, T & D Willey Farms; Kristina Hubbard from Organic Seed Alliance as moderator

Speaker Bios

Brian Baker is President of the North American Regional Group of IFOAM—Organics International (IFOAM NA). Dr. Baker is a researcher, consultant and educator who has worked in organic agriculture since 1983. His clients include universities, government agencies, private institutes, and various businesses. He was a founder of the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) and a pioneer of organic certification for California Certified Organic Farmers. He is a past member of the IFOAM Standards Committee, Principles of Organic Agriculture Task Force, and the Sustainable Organic Agriculture Action Network that was involved in the development of Organic 3.0. He is currently vice-chair of the Technology Innovation Platform of IFOAM. Brian grew up on a small family farm in Western New York. His Ph.D. is from Cornell University, and he has also taught college classes on organic agriculture.


Kiki Hubbard (Moderator) is the director of advocacy and communications for Organic Seed Alliance. Kiki's work on seed policy spans fifteen years in the areas of antitrust, biotechnology, consolidation, intellectual property, and organic regulation. At OSA, Kiki leads efforts to promote policies and actions that advance organic seed systems that are democratic and just. She manages OSA's State of Organic Seed project and leads federal policy initiatives targeting Congress, federal agencies, and the National Organic Standards Board. Kiki lives in Missoula, Montana, with her husband and son.

Michael Mazourek is an Associate Professor of Vegetable Breeding at Cornell University and co-founder Row 7 Seeds.  Michael’s vegetable breeding program is focused on developing new cultivars of pea, squash, melon, cucumber, bean and pepper crop for organic farming systems.  This process of breeding new varieties through traditional methods of cross-pollination is informed by surveys of natural diversity and studies into the underlying genetic mechanisms.  His grower-driven traits focus on fungal and insect resistances in regionally adapted backgrounds to provide a reliable, productive harvest and reduce the need for pesticide applications.  His consumer-driven traits focus on color, quality, flavor and novelty to drive the consumption of naturally nutritious food. 

Tom Willey, with his wife Denesse, operated T&D Willey Farms from 1981 until 2016, a seventy-five-acre Certified Organic farm in Madera, California, growing a wide array of Mediterranean vegetables the year round. T&D Willey Farms produce was appreciated in specialty markets and fine restaurants up and down the U.S. West Coast as well as on the tables of over 800 weekly Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription members in their own community. Tom was, for nearly a decade, Slow Food USA's governor for California's Central Valley and he passionately advocates for local food prominence through his writing, speaking, radio, and event organizing activities. His monthly "Down on the Farm" radio interview program features the work of progressive farmers and others prominent in San Joaquin Valley's agriculture and food communities. Tom has served over the years on the boards of directors of the Ecological Farming Association (EFA) and California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) and presently is a member of CCOF Certification Services’ five-person LLC Management Committee. He currently serves as a Policy Advisor to The Cornucopia Institute which monitors integrity of the U.S. organic industry.

Jared Zystro (Moderator) is Organic Seed Alliance’s research and education assistant director. He has a master’s degree in plant breeding and plant genetics from the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Jared has worked in the organic seed industry for over 15 years, managing seed production at two farms and conducting research and education projects with OSA. He currently manages OSA’s regional development in California, conducts participatory breeding projects and variety trials, and teaches farmers about seed production and plant breeding at workshops, conferences, and field days. Jared is also a PhD candidate in the University of Wisconsin - Madison's Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics program, where he is studying efficient methods of developing new organic sweet corn varieties. He lives in the coastal town of Arcata, CA, with his wife and son.