A group of individuals representing U.S. and Mexican governments, trade associations and industry met Oct. 21, 2011, in Merida, Mexico, to address the challenges of importing seed into Mexico from the United States for organic agriculture and identify potential solutions. Mexico has been shifting a good portion of its production acres to organic, especially for vegetable production, and producers rely on foreign sources for seed.

The United States is a big supplier and end user, says Ric Dunkle, American Seed Trade Association senior director of seed health and trade. "Often times, what happens is U.S. seed companies supply Mexican farmers with organic seed to grow produce according to the provisions of the U.S. National Organic Program and then the United States purchases certified organic produce to sell in its stores."

In 1995, Mexico began requiring all seed moving into the country be treated with a fungicide, which completely nulls the concept and criteria for organic seed.

"It wasn't such a big deal at the time, but as demand for organic products increased, so has the problem," Dunkle explains. "During the last couple years, there have been attempts to get seed treatments approved by Mexico that also meet the requirements of the U.S. organic certification program.

Mexican growers now face serious shortages of seed that meet the requirements for use in organic agriculture.

"There is a biological fungicide that has been approved for certain types of seed, but not all types, and Mexico's requirements for hot water treatment damage the seed and leave it with a poor germination rate." Dunkle says.

The workshop was designed to bring all the players around the table and discuss the current rules and regulations in place, the problems that result and steps or actions that can be taken to address the problem.

"The meeting provided us the opportunity to better understand Mexico's organic production system and regulations and how phytosanitary issues impact the availability of seed," Dunkle says. "It's really a win-win for both countries. U.S. seed companies will benefit by being able to export more seed to Mexico and Mexican farmers will benefit by having more access to organic seed; therefore, more organic produce to sell back to the United States.

"Moving forward, we will work to encourage seed treatment companies to send a proposal for alternative treatments to Mexico's Secretary of Agriculture, Ranching, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food Supply as quickly as possible. Before any of this can be done, we need to clarify this process and work with USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the Agricultural Marketing Service as well as the USDA Minister Counselor in Mexico City."

ASTA, with the help of APHIS, has already developed a proposal for producing seed under a systems approach that could be certified and sent to Mexico untreated. This proposal is currently under review by the Mexican authorities.

Mexican authorities also indicated that some seed species such as lettuce seed have already been exempted from the blanket fungicide treatment requirement. They agreed to provide a list of seeds that are not required to be treated.

Darrel Maddox of Endless Sky Partners LLC and chair of ASTA's Phytosanitary Committee, Roberto Fraile of Mexican Seed Trade Association, Erica Renaud of Vitalis Seeds and chair of ASTA's Organic Seed Committee were all present and will work to make sure these actions are executed.

For questions and additional information about the workshop or to get involved and show support, contact Dunkle at 703-837-8140 or rdunkle@amseed.org.