Review of BIOFACH 2023

Just six months after the summer edition, this year’s BIOFACH took place in February as usual once again. For the third time, bioverita organized a large joint stand for the trade fair under the slogan “Meeting Point Organic Breeding”.

Both as a contact point for comprehensive information and as a networking and discussion forum on organic breeding.

Note on the screens at the exhibition entrances

Comprehensive Offer at the Joint Stand

Various partners from Germany, Austria and Switzerland were present as co-exhibitors: the seed companies Bingenheimer Saatgut AG, ReinSaat GmbH and Sativa Rheinau AG, the breeding initiatives saat:gut e.V. (vegetable breeding) and Poma Culta e.V. (apple breeding), Dachverband Ökologische Pflanzenzüchtung in Deutschland e.V. (the Umbrella Organization for Organic Plant Breeding in Germany), the seed fund of the Future Foundation for Agriculture and the Bavarian State Institute for Agriculture (LfL) with its organic breeding platform.

In addition, the trading partners of bioverita were present with a lavish range of vegetables and an opportunity to taste varieties from organic breeding. On a large screen at the back of the stand, personal statements from all trading partners described in words why they are members of bioverita. The Petkus company rounded off the offer and demonstrated a state-of-the-art machine which can clean and sort even the finest seeds using compressed air.

Logos of co-exhibitors

Think tank

“bioverita brings all these players together and with its big display sends a clear signal about the relevance of organic breeding,” says Markus Johann, manager of the association. He points to the logos of the 58 members, which are shown on the back of the stand. In addition to many breeding initiatives, numerous companies in the organic sector are already members.

“The fair is a wonderful place to consolidate existing contacts and make new plans. We were able to initiate new, also international, cooperations in order to make varieties from organic breeding better known and to market them even more widely,” he reports.

Lively exchange at the stand

Distinctive varieties for 30% organic 30 % Bio

“It’s good that organic breeding has such a big presence at the fair,” summarizes Dr. Markus Herz. Head of the organic breeding platform Ruhstorf, of the LfL. “It is important that we as a public research institution are present here and communicate the topic to the outside world. We offer regional breeding companies the opportunity to test new varieties under organic conditions and help them connect to the people who process the produce in the next step.

There is also a political push for this kind of professional support in the development of organic varieties,” adds Herz’ colleague Lucia Holmer. After all, by 2030 more than a third of the area in agricultural use is supposed to be farmed organically. For this purpose, regionally adapted organic varieties are increasingly needed for agriculture and processing.

Lists with bioverita varieties

Herausforderung NeueThe challenge of new genetic engineering

CRISPR/Cas or Organic Breeding? Decide now! The provocative statement was prominently displayed on the wall of the exhibition stand and thus drew attention to the current challenge that organic farming will very likely face in the near future.

The EU Commission plans to deregulate the so-called new genetic engineering, of which CRISPR/Cas is the most prominent. In concrete terms, this means that genetically modified organisms may be cultivated and processed without being registered and labeled accordingly.

L. Holmer and M. Fleck in front of the exhibition stand’s slogan

Lots of open questions

So how can you tell what has been modified and what hasn’t? The promise of organic farming to work GMO-free is in jeopardy. Many conversations at the fair were dominated by the impending changes to the laws surrounding genetic engineering and the many unanswered questions that are entailed. Barbara Maria Rudolf from the breeding initiative Saat:gut e.V. is concerned:

“Especially as a small breeding initiative, we depend on being able to exchange material with other breeders in order to develop new varieties. Organic breeding would be severely curtailed in the future if conventionally bred varieties could no longer be included in new breeding projects,” she says, summarising the concerns of many colleagues.

Barbara Maria Rudolf from Saat:gut e.V.

More organic breeding in the future

But Barbara Maria Rudolf, organic farmer and breeder, also has positive things to report. She is a founding member of the Umbrella Association for Organic Plant Breeding in Germany e.V. who has been campaigning at the political level for the promotion of organic breeding research and breeding for the last year.

“We are confident that there will be more organic breeding in the future. And there is am urgent need for it. Perhaps the threat of CRISPR/Cas is the push we need in the organic industry. It’s clearly not desirable that so many conventional varieties are used in organic farming,” she emphasizes.

Tasting of varieties from organic breeding

Support from the Federal Government

“This time round the fair is very political,” states Gebhard Rossmanith, who, as a member of the board of directors of Bingenheimer Saatgut AG, has built up seed production and promoted organic breeding for decades. “The fact that the green Federal Government wants to push organic farming is drawing more attention to our work than we have seen in many years,” he notes with satisfaction.

At the same time, he sees the shared values of the organic sector in danger, “since organic has become very widespread as a result of the corona pandemic and new, very large players are now involved. It remains to be seen whether they are willing to embody the principles of organic farming as part of their own drive.”

Gebhard Rossmanith

Organic breeding as an existential factor

In this context, he assesses the role of organic breeding as existential. “In the short term, it will not be able to provide enough varieties for organic farming. But as it becomes more and more competitive for the conventional breeding companies interested in organic farming, it can be the guideline for their organic farming activities.

Conventional breeding must be based on the principles and needs of organic farming and not the other way around,” says Rossmanith. After all, organic breeding shows how organic works right from the start.

Stefanie Merkl from Bingenheimer Saatgut AG

Standards for organic breeding

“Unfortunately, the legal framework for organic breeding has not yet been specified,” explains Herbert Völkle from GZPK grain breeding and founding member of the Umbrella Organization. The association has therefore developed a specific definition based on the standards of IFOAM OE and ECO-PB (European Consortium for Organic Plant Breeding) and coordinated this with the Federal Organic Food Industry (BÖLW).

This definition can now serve as a guide for politics. The Federal Organic Farming Program (BÖL) already uses it as a framework for allocating subsidies. “This is an important step,” says Völkle happily. This year he wants to move forward a lot with his fellow breeders from the umbrella organization. BIOFACH and the Organic Breeding Hub again provided a good framework for getting closer to these goals.

The team from the Umbrella Association for Organic Plant Breeding in Germany e.V.

Photos: bioverita