Conservation Seed Workshop:
The following summary is based on facilitated discussion sessions at the March 2007 Conservation Seed Workshop sponsored by USDA-NRCS, USFS, BLM and the Plant Conservation Alliance for the American Seed Trade Association. The purpose of this workshop was to discuss partnerships for native plant materials development, specifically using ecotype specific seed. For the purposes of this discussion we will use the Turesson 1922 definition of ecotype:
“A result of the genotypical response of a species to a particular habitat”
The discussions revealed two sides of a complex topic; how to enhance a partnership that satisfies federal agencies, that would like to restore public lands with ecotype-specific seed, and the seed trade industry, that provides most of the conservation seed used by the government but has reservations about the profitability associated with growing out seeds with narrow marketability, while at the same time successfully restoring public lands?
Below are various perspectives on this issue.
From the scientists:
- We don’t know how well species are adaptive – it is obvious more research is needed here.
- The geneticists do not disagree but instead they understand that there are different conditions for different taxa. There is also some debate regarding how far they are willing to move species away from their original site.
- It was agreed that you can grow out ecotypic species outside of their original ranges as long as the growing site conditions are similar. It also depends on the species. Growing multiple generations away from the original site is not desired.
- Data like Ramona Garner’s may help convince industry that investing in ecotypes is worth while. She is trying to reduce production costs however differences in production scale may not translate well.
- Long-term research is needed to confirm/deny the performance of locally adapted species.
From the seed trade industry:
- Industry grows native plants all the time but ecospecific natives will be difficult. They want more research to ensure reliable seed sources.
- Some growers do not want to invest in planting less than 5 acres of one species, others reported that 60 acres is the minimum for planting one species
- It is hard to produce seed for only a 100-200 mile range.
- They understand that they have to start small but it is difficult for producers to process small lots due to technical barriers (equipment at processing facilities).
- They’re cautious because irregularities in seed demand from year to year make the government a less-than-ideal customer.
- As the production of ecotypes increases (which are more risky in the marketplace because they are a niche product), the acreage of production in varietals (which are safer more reliable products) will decrease.
- ASTA members produce 80-90% of conservation seed used by the government for NRCS programs and BLM and USFS restoration projects.
- East coast and west coast markets and customers are vastly different. The scale of demand is much larger in the west.
- It’s important to have a good relationship with your local BLM district employees.
- They have found that NRCA Plant Materials Centers are reliable.
- Industry says, “its simple, just release the materials to us and then request them in federal bids”.
- Suggestion to use BLM consolidated seed buys for large-scale purchases and pre-orders for more risky, niche species.
From the federal agencies:
- We don’t want introduced species to outcompete all other natives.
- Need to consider the genetic load of super plant cultivars on local natives.
- The feds aren’t just talking about using ecotypes for 5 acre growing areas every 50 miles. They are seeding larger areas, especially on BLM land.
- Forest Service nurseries may be able to help with the transfer of knowledge between feds and industry.
- It is doubtful, that federal agencies will agree on how to use ecotypes, as they have various missions.
- Remember, feds can only control what they release and what they buy.
- They are most likely to buy the cheaper seed although they would like to buy native.
- Different agencies are looking for different things, for example:
- FS – early successional species, possibly more ecotypic
- BLM – grasses and cross-pollinated species, possibly more adaptive and less ecotypic, perhaps easier to produce economic ecotypes
- Bidding on contracts is at the front end (pre-order) with the FS, however with the BLM bidding occurs after some catastrophic event.
- More thought needed on what to do with ecotype specific overages.
- Potential for creating an online bulletin board to connect people who want to test material and people that can grow it out.
At the end of these sessions, it was announced that ASTA and the federal partners will establish a working group/workshop for 2008 for further discussion of this topic. The purpose of this session will be to continue discussions between the scientists and the seed companies.